Fox Sues Record Company Over 'Empire' Name

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on March 26, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When your TV show becomes a huge success, why does it seem like everyone wants to get their hands on it? Fox is not happy that someone is trying to lay claim to the title of its hit new series, "Empire."

Fox is proactively suing Empire Distribution, Inc. to declare its rights to the title "Empire." Fox took the proactive step after Empire Distribution, Inc., a California record company, sent a demand letter accusing the television company of trademark infringement and trademark dilution. In its first demand, Empire Distribution wanted $8 million. Not wanting to give in to Empire Distributions' demands, Fox turned to the court asking for a declaratory judgment.

So, what's a declaratory judgment, and who has the better claim?

Declaratory Judgment

A declaratory judgment is a proclamation from the court establishing the legal right of one party over another in a dispute. For example, Susie and Bob fight over who owns a new sparkly new pink bicycle that has just arrived. They run to their mom asking her to resolve the argument. Mom renders a declaratory judgment saying, "The bike belongs to Susie."

So, Fox is asking the court for a declaratory judgment saying that the title of the show does not infringe on Empire Distribution's trademark.

Trademark Infringement

When the courts determine trademark infringement, they look at:

  1. Whether you can prove "active use" of the trademark;
  2. Whether consumers will be confused by a similar mark
  3. Whether the infringer sells a similar product in a similar geographic area to a similar market.

Empire Distribution's Arguments

The record company's lawyer is convinced that his client will win. He told The Hollywood Reporter, "Empire was started over five years before the first broadcast of the show, the marks are identical, and they sell the same products to the same customers. The significant number of incidents of actual public confusion is disturbing."

Fox's Arguments

Fox isn't impressed with Empire Distribution's claims. Fox argues that people aren't likely to be confused because they probably haven't even heard of Empire Distribution. In its complaint, Fox asserts that Empire Distribution doesn't even show up on a Google search for "empire record label" until the seventh page. Meanwhile, "Empire" the show has attracted over 16 million viewers.

Will Empire Distribution win because it had the name first? Will Fox win because its show has more name recognition? Fox has just filed its lawsuit against Empire Distribution, so it will be a while before we know who will prevail.

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