Would you confuse a plastic, poop-shaped toy purse for a Louis Vuitton handbag? MGA Entertainment Inc., maker of the “Pooey Puitton” purse, doesn’t think so. On New Year’s Eve, MGA filed suit against luxury brand Louis Vuitton in federal court. MGA is seeking a declaration that its toy purse, which comes loaded with enough slime powder to create a “rainbow” of “magical unicorn poop,” does not infringe on Louis Vuitton’s intellectual property, which consists of copyright and trademark protections for its signature monogram pattern. MGA also manufactures the popular L.O.L Surprise and Bratz dolls.
In its complaint, MGA asserted that no reasonable consumer would mistake a Pooey Puitton purse, which retails for around $60, for an actual LV handbag. MGA says the purse is a parody, “designed to mock, criticize, and make fun of that wealth and celebrity” associated with Louis Vuitton products.Although LV did not actually initiate any litigation against MGA for infringement, MGA argues that Louis Vuitton has a “history of not respecting parody rights in the U.S. and filing vexatious lawsuits against such protected parody,” and decided to strike first.
Under copyright law, a parody is an imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect. By definition, it necessarily uses of another’s creative work, creating a conflict between the creator of the parody and the creator of the original work. Because a parody usually pokes fun at the original, the original’s creator is unlikely to grant a license for use of their copyrighted work.
Parodists must often rely on the “fair-use” doctrine to avoid liability for copyright infringement. A fair use analysis is inherently fact-intensive, and the outcome depends heavily on the specific circumstances surrounding the case. As a general rule, courts are more likely to extend fair use protection to an alleged infringer if the infringing work does not interfere with the market for the original work.
Which begs the question: does a slime-filled, poop-shaped, rainbow-colored plastic purse conjure images of decadence and luxury, such that it might cause a few longtime Louis Vuitton customers to change their allegiances? Perhaps. On the other hand, it could be a savvy publicity grab by MGA to drum up Pooey Puitton sales, which recently sold out at Target.