I was just read about how the North Face is suing the South Butt. The South Butt is a parody line of clothing started by Jimmy Winkelmann, a college freshman at the University of Missouri. The South Butt clothing line features a logo that is a clever spoof of the ever present North Face logo.
I’m not a lawyer and nor do I play one on TV, but it sounds the South Butt was a clear and obvious parody and would be protected by the fair use laws. Parody is a fair use, even when done as a commercial venture. That has been taken all the way to the Supreme Court. In Campell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Roy Orbison’s publishers tried to sue 2 Live Crew for their song “Pretty Woman”, which parodied Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman”. The Supreme court ruled that the 2 Live Crew song was protected by § 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976.
This is just a dumb move on the part of North face. I don’t know how Winkelmann’s venture crossed the North Face radar, but I’m sure it didn’t much exposure until the North Face lawyers got involved. That caused a Streisand Effect, generating tons of publicity for the Butt Face. Now the North Face looks like a bully with no sense of humor.
When you compare the two logos, you can clearly see the difference.
The South Butt logo is clearly parodying the North Face logo. I can see the need for the North Face to protect their logo. That logo is the identifying marker for their product line. When someone is wearing a North Face jacket, you are aware of the brand from 30 feet away. The South Butt does not dilute the North Face brand. It make fun of it, but that is protected by law. There is no upside for North Face with this suit. They will most likely lose their case and will ahve wasted time on and money on a pointless venture. If by some bizarre luck they actually win, then they will look like bullies. Either way, lots of bad publicity for them.
My daughters wear North Face jackets. It’s a status symbol for their age group. If the North Face continues with this suit, I’ll think twice before I buy anymore. I may just buy a Butt Face jacket for my own amusement. I’ve already become a fan of their Facebook page.