Saturday, September 30, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, September 30, 2023 | Back issues
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Oprah Dodges Suit Over Inspirational Motto

MANHATTAN (CN) - A motivational speaker has no case against Oprah Winfrey over the use of the phrase "Own Your Power" on an old O Magazine cover, a federal judge ruled.

Simone Kelly-Brown says she developed Own Your Power Communications and registered the phrase as a trademark in 2008 to promote "a personal brand of self-awareness and motivational communications services nationally."

But in September 2010, Winfrey used the phrase in connection to her annual "power list." The phrase appeared on the October 2010 cover of O Magazine, highlighting an article about the list, and it was the title of a panel discussion with some of the power players coroneted in 2010, including journalist Diane Sawyer, designer Vera Wang and actress Julia Roberts.

Chico's, Wells Fargo and Clinique co-sponsored the event, which Winfrey later discussed in an episode of the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and in a subsequent issue of the magazine.

Kelly-Brown sued Oprah and the corporate sponsors, but U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty dismissed the case last week.

"The fair use defense allows use of protected marks in descriptive ways, provided it does not identify the source or origin of the goods," Crotty wrote.

"The source of the Magazine was clearly identified by the prominent, and distinctive 'O' trademark followed by 'The Oprah Magazine' " and "the fact that Oprah herself is pictured on the cover of the Magazine further identifies the source of the goods," he added.

Winfrey's use also did not cause consumer confusion, according to the decision, which notes that Kelly-Brown used a different font and color.

Using the phrase to sell a print magazine also differs from using the phrase to sell "motivational communications services," including an annual "retreat and other conferences," Crotty wrote.

After dismissing Kelly-Brown's federal claims, the court declined to exercise jurisdiction over the unfair competition, consumer fraud and other state-law claims.

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