Most people have heard of the famous Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (“Coachella”). If you haven’t, it is an annual music and arts festival held at the Empire Polo Club in India, California. Coachella began in 1999 and has been labeled one of the “largest, most famous, and most profitable music festivals in the United States.” For example, the 2015 festival sold 198,000 tickets and grossed $84.3 million. Suffice to say, this is a beast of an event, put on by a most likely very sophisticated business.
What do most sophisticated businesses in common? They actively secure, police and enforce their trademark rights. For instance, Coachella Music Festival, LLC owns several pending and registered trademarks over a wide variety of goods. Therefore, it is not surprising that the organizer of Coachella, Goldenvoice LLC, recently filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the organizers of another music festival by the name of ‘Hoodchella.’ Hoodchella, a one-day, 60 artist music festival located in Southern California, launched last year and features independent art and artists.
So, why is naming a music festival ‘Hoodchella’ a problem? Arguably, the name sounds, looks and means something different from ‘Coachella.’ While this might be true, trademark infringement is not limited to trademarks that are so similar that a person would confuse one mark for another. Trademark infringement can also include a false association or sponsorship between two marks. The current case is actually a good example of this. ‘Coachella’ is a famous music event that has acquired a large following and notoriety since its inception in 1999. It is likely that an attendee to one, or both, of these music festivals would see the term ‘Hoodchella’ and think the events are somehow related due to the inclusion of the ‘chella’ portion in both event names. So, although it is unlikely an attendee would purchase a ticket to ‘Hoodchella’ by mistakenly thinking they are purchasing a ticket to ‘Coachella,’ the name is still infringing the ‘Coachella’ trademark.
The parties in this particular case settled fairly quickly-the complaint was filed in January and the suit was dismissed in March. The price of settlement was heavily one-sided in favor of ‘Coachella’: the organizers of ‘Hoodchella’ have changed the name to ‘Noise in the Hood’ and have already implemented re-directs of its website and changed its Facebook page.
Moral of the story here?
Trademark infringement—and the headaches that come along with defending against an accusation of it—can be avoided by remembering that it is not limited to confusion as to the source of a product or service. In all likelihood, the organizers of ‘Hoodchella’ simply thought they were being clever by replacing one portion of the mark with a different word. However, it is also likely they intended to create an appearance of some sort of affiliation between the events. This is a classic example of trademark infringement that can carry serious implications, i.e., a potential finding of intentional trademark infringement.