MANHATTAN (CN) – Louis Vuitton cannot sue Warner Bros. for using an allegedly counterfeit handbag in a brief scene of “The Hangover: Part II,” a federal judge ruled.
In the 2011 comedy, the character Alan played by Zach Galifianakis carries seven suitcases sporting Louis Vuitton’s “toile monogram,” which consists of the company’s intertwined initials.
At one point in the movie, Galifianakis shouts when his luggage is displaced so a character named Teddy can sit. “Careful! That is a Lewis Vuitton,” Alan yells, mispronouncing the brand name.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter Jr. dismissed the case Friday.
“It is instructive to consider what this case is about and what it is not,” the 21-page order states. “Louis Vuitton does not object to Warner Bros.’ unauthorized use of the LVM Marks or reference to the name Louis Vuitton in the film. Nor does Louis Vuitton claim that Warner Bros. misled the public into believing that Louis Vuitton sponsored or was affiliated with the film. Rather, Louis Vuitton contends that Warner Bros. impermissibly used a third-party’s bag that allegedly infringes on the LVM Marks.”
In April, Warner Bros. argued that the suit could chill free speech, citing a 1989 lawsuit filed by Hollywood icons Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
Judge Carter also referred to that case in his ruling.
“In Rogers v. Grimaldi, the Second Circuit held that the Lanham Act is inapplicable to ‘artistic works’ as long as the defendant’s use of the mark is (1) ‘artistically relevant’ to the work and (2) not ‘explicitly misleading’ as to the source or content of the work,” the order states. “Louis Vuitton does not dispute that Warner Bros.’ challenged use of the mark is noncommercial, placing it firmly within the purview of an ‘artistic work’ under Rogers.”
Carter added that the Vuitton reference was necessary for the film.
“Alan’s terse remark to Teddy to ‘[be] [c]areful’ because his bag ‘is a Lewis Vuitton’ comes across as snobbish only because the public signifies Louis Vuitton – to which the Diophy bag looks confusingly similar – with luxury and a high society lifestyle,” the order states. “His remark also comes across as funny because he mispronounces the French ‘Louis’ like the English ‘Lewis,’ and ironic because he cannot correctly pronounce the brand name of one of his expensive possessions, adding to the image of Alan as a socially inept and comically misinformed character. This scene also introduces the comedic tension between Alan and Teddy that appears throughout the film.”
The judge brushed aside Louis Vuitton’s “expansive view” of its trademark.
“Here, there is no likelihood of confusion that viewers would believe that the Diophy bag is a real Louis Vuitton bag just because a fictional character made this claim in the context of a fictional movie,” the order states. “Neither is there a likelihood of confusion that this statement would cause viewers to believe that Louis Vuitton approved of Warner Bros.’ use of the Diophy bag. In a case such as this one, no amount of discovery will tilt the scales in favor of the mark holder at the expense of the public’s right to free expression.”