Hey, You Got Music in My Baseball!

29 July 2009

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This evening, the Ippers went to a little going away pub crawl for a friend who’s heading off to the wonderful(?) world of SoCal.  We did the mini-version, making it through only one pub (hey, some people get to work in the mornings).  Of course, that pub had the mandatory large flat screen television airing ESPN’s Sports Center.  In the course of the repeated runnings of highlights, the image to the left caught my eye.  Probably familiar to many, this is the logo of the New York Yankees baseball team. 

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This Ipper, however, is far less into baseball than she is into hip hop.  So the first thing she thought of when she saw the logo was Lil’ Wayne’s record label, Young Money Entertainment.  That logo is the one on the right.

Likelihood of confusion anyone?  Since these are both US marks, let’s play around with the Polaroid factors for likelihood of confusion.  (Assuming NY, as the longer established mark, as Plaintiffs.)

  1. Strength of the plaintiff’s mark. The Yankees mark is very strong.  Probably recognizable around the world.  A google image search for “New York Yankees” brings up mostly pictures of the logo and almost no pictures of players or games.  The logo has gone beyond something used to show fan support and has practically become a brand in and of itself.  Hats bearing the logo come in ever color, including black on black, and are worn by people across the US regardless of their baseball team affiliation.  (I once saw a fan at a Giants game remove his Giants cap as soon as the game ended and put on his everyday Yankees cap to leave the stadium.  No, the Giants had not lost.)
  2. Degree of similarity between the two marks. Both marks have the same font and the same layout.  In addition, the letters M and N are very similar, thus giving the two marks the same general look and feel, despite the different letters.  Although the Yankees' specific team colors are navy and white, the mark appears in many different colors, as does the Young Money mark.  Black white color combinations are very common for both marks.
  3. The proximity of products or services. A baseball franchise and record label seem pretty far apart, however there is lots of overlap here.  To start with, there’s the New York Yankees Greatest Hits albums.  Then there’s the merchandising aspect.  Hip hop labels and baseball teams both deal in clothing and accessories bearing their marks.  The products and services of the two marks aren’t directly related, but do have a lot of side-overlap.  Incidentally, the Yankees mark happens to be one that is very common for hip hop artists and fans to wear.  Just another area where the marks might be seen in close proximity.  (Compare this NY bling to this YM bling.)
  4. Likelihood that plaintiff will bridge the gap between markets.  As discussed above, the gap is pretty much already bridged, especially since the Yankees have put out music albums.
  5. Evidence of actual confusion.  For this, I can only give my own antidotal experience.  Several times while preparing this post, I accidently copied one mark thinking I had the other one, or opened a new webpage for the mark that was on an open page instead of the one I needed.  It appears others have at least noticed the striking similarity.  Link (WARNING!!! foul language and what is best described as ‘ignent’ behavior on that link.)  That’s not much, but it’s all I’ve got.
  6. Defendant’s good faith in adopting the mark.  Without asking Lil’ Wayne himself, I have no idea why he chose this mark.  I am guessing it’s partly in homage to the Yankees, but also partly because the Yankees logo is so popular in hip hop.  The style and familiarity of the logo express a message that, on some level, associate with hip hop.
  7. The quality of defendant’s product or services. Judging the quality of hip hop…. I think we’re going to skip this factor this time.
  8. The sophistication of the buyers.  I would guess that buyers of Yankees logo emblazoned items span the whole gauntlet of sophistication.  Purchasers of Young Money items are probably less likely to be sophisticated in the way courts would think of it, but they’re more likely to be very street smart and able to protect themselves from being ripped off by the wrong mark. (Ripped off in the sense of not getting what they thought they were paying for.)

Seems to me, the Yankees would have a decent case.  But I don’t think they would (or should) bring an action.  The mark is very strong; most people who care will know which mark they want, and a suit would probably bring nothing but bad PR.

But what do our readers think?  Likelihood of confusion?  If you were the Yankees, would you bring suit?

Comments

5 Responses to “Hey, You Got Music in My Baseball!”
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3dizzle said...

ny yankees vs Young Money. Foreigners will get confused over the logos, especially if its a baseball cap. YM wont last long.

July 30, 2009 at 9:16:00 AM PDT
3dizzle said...

(cont.) well i see where this could work for YM, it draws attention to him with controversy, but as a NY yankee fan, it's not cool!

July 30, 2009 at 9:19:00 AM PDT
Justen said...

i think this is a mixture of lack of creativity, and piggy-backing on a strong mark. the actual artistry for (YM) consists of reflecting the left side of the (NY) mark over the center of the picture and removing the original. beyond that, i think goldenrail is absolutely correct that the (NY) mark is one of a few very strong national if not global marks. if the Yankees mention it, at least (YM) will get some publicity.

July 30, 2009 at 12:58:00 PM PDT
Owen said...

IMHO, I think it's slam dunk confusion. It took me a few seconds to notice the difference, and I'm a huge fan of both the Yankees and hip hop although not the usual demographic of the latter). I think it will all likely come down to whether the Yankees want to make an issue of it. Ignore it, and you get a few grumblings and the online postings. It's from someone who is likely a Yankees fan (I doubt a Red Sox fan would put such a symbol on their music), and is thus akin to an homage (not that there's a legal right to do so in this case). I do not seem to recall the Yankees being so aggressive in such cases (they're more considered with counterfeiting and the like), so I suspect they'll let it go. Contrast this with Luther Campbell, who no longer can go by Luke Skyywalker due to Lucasfilm action.

July 31, 2009 at 10:54:00 AM PDT
goldenrail said...

Owen, I think you're right that it will come down to whether or not the Yankees decide to do anything about it. And, as Justen pointed out, if the Yankees do decide to do something, it will mean publicity for Young Money. Not necessarily something they don't want - as 3dizzle noted.

I'm not really sure if the Young Money members are Yankee fans. Lil Wayne is from New Orleans, now in Florida. Don't know much about the others. I don't really here much from them about the Yankees. My guess is that the NY symbol is just popular and so they decided to use it.

August 3, 2009 at 9:55:00 AM PDT