Jack Daniel’s does not need any further introduction, and the company is nothing short of a trademark treasure. It is arguably one of the most iconic brands in the world, with its distinctive black-label whiskey bottle and rock-and-roll aura. In 2017, a company called VIP Products wanted to be a part of that iconic status and began selling a dog toy that resembled the Jack Daniel’s bottle, but with the brand name replaced with “Bad Spaniels” and the slogan “Old No. 2 on Your Tennessee Carpet” instead of “Old No. 7”. At first glimpse, the plastic toy brings a smile to your face, but Jack Daniel’s was not amused and sued VIP Products for trademark infringement, and the case was ultimately tried by the Supreme Court.
In one of the briefs, Jack Daniel’s held that “Jack Daniel’s appreciates a good joke as much as anyone. But Jack Daniel’s likes its customers even more and doesn’t want them to be confused or associate its fine whiskey with dog poop.” The Supreme Court sided with Jack Daniel’s, holding that the Bad Spaniels dog toy was not protected by free speech, expressed in the First Amendment. The Court found that the toy was not a true parody but rather a commercial product that was likely to cause confusion among consumers.
This case is important because it clarifies the law on trademark infringement and parody. While parodies are generally protected by the First Amendment, businesses cannot use parodies to create consumer confusion about the source or origin of their products. Having fun at the expense of another company’s trademark is, therefore, something to avoid. Considering the capital spent on creating an appealing image, it is easy to see why successful brands like Jack Daniel’s want to keep their status pristine.
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