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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Kanye West Ain’t No (Crypto) Banker

His Account is Not Likely Overdrawn
One of the defendants in the ‘Coinye West’ trademark infringement suit entered into a consent agreement with Kanye West and his company Mascotte Holdings (Plaintiffs) over the Coinye West crypto-currency. Judge Analisa Torres from the Southern District of New York issued the permanent injunction.

Defendants had launched a crypto-currency, the COINYE WEST, or COINYE, or COYE on the <> website in December 2013. They redirected the site to <> after receiving a cease and desist letter from Kanye West’s attorneys. In spite of the letter, their crypto-currency launched in January 2014.

Bitcoin was the first crypto currency to emerge in 2009 and has since been the source of inspiration for many more. As stated in the Plaintiffs’ amended complaint, “[t]here are over 150 new digital currencies attempting to compete with Bitcoin, some in earnest and some as marketing ploys.” A crypto-currency is created (‘mined’) by individuals using open-source software and computers to solve complex math problems. If they solve a math problem, they are rewarded in coins (I will have to find another way to become a millionaire!).The amended complaint explains in detail how such a system works.

Kanye West needs no introduction, but let me refresh your memory. As stated in the amended complaint, “Mr. West is credited with refocusing rap from hardcore gangster themes to more personal messages,” and “Mr. West sets trends for everything he touches.” He is also a member, with Kim Kardashian, of the #WorldsMostTalkedAboutCouple, aka Kimye, which is (not yet?) a trademark.

However, Mascotte Holdings, Inc. owns several KANYE WEST trademarks, such as KANYE WEST in class 41 for music composition and KANYE WEST in class 25 for clothing. Kanye West is quite adept at self-promoting his personal brand, and can boast 10.6 million followers on Twitter, and an April 2014 U.S. Vogue Cover with wife Kim, which has been spoofed many times.

But the Kanye West brand is no joke and the artist is a savvy businessman who indeed seems to have a Midas touch, changing everything he touches into gold. It is not surprising that he would be chosen to adorn the face of a new currency. The first version of the COINYE represented a golden cartoon version of the famous singer, complete with ‘shutter shades sunglasses, and then was changed to represent a cartoon version of Kanye West as a fish.The fish had shutter shades as well.

Alas! Neither the use of Kanye West’s name nor his likeness had been authorized and Plaintiffs had issued a complaint last January. They amended it in March, claiming trademark infringement, trademark dilution, unfair competition and cyber squatting. The complaint mentioned several cases of consumer confusion on Twitter, such as this one or this one. They also claimed that Kanye West’s right of privacy and publicity had been violated under New York Civil Rights Law §50 and §51. This law was also recently the basis for Lindsay Lohan's suit against the makers of the Grand Theft Auto Video Game. It provides a cause of action if the identity of the plaintiff has been used in advertising or commerce without written consent.  

The defendant is permanently enjoined from registering or operating a website using the KANYE WEST mark, the COINYE West mark, the COYE mark or any “colorable imitation” of these marks, to use the mark KANYE WEST, to use Kanye West’s likeness  in any manner likely to cause confusion tor to deceive the public. However, this site is still claiming to offer coinye coins and is using the cartoon of Kanye West as a fish. It states in its FAQs that “the guys who started Coinye are nowhere to be found, but we gladly take it from here” and that “The Original Developers ran off from the lawyers. However, the coin was already unstoppable out, so the community decided to take over and work on it for further development (sic).” Will there also be further legal developments?

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