Coachella, established in 1999, is one of the biggest and most well-known music and arts festivals in the world. Every year, hundreds of thousands of music fans from all over the globe travel to the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California for the festival, which due to demand and popularity, has been expanded to two separate back-to-back weekends of entertainment. The artist line-ups are usually eclectic and diverse, often with major headlining attractions that are among the biggest names in the industry.
In September 2017, an upstart film festival with a similar name, Filmchella, was established and took place at Joshua Tree Retreat Center in Joshua Tree, California. Understandably, Goldenvoice, LLC (“Goldenvoice”), the owner of Coachella, was displeased with what it viewed was blatant trademark infringement over the use of the “chella” moniker, and initiated legal proceedings to stop Filmchella. Over the past year, the litigation has gone in a number of directions, from an injunction barring Filmchella’s owner Robert T. Simms (“Simms”) from using the name, to mediation, to Simms filing a motion to stay the trademark litigation until the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board has conducted a review.
Last week, Goldenvoice lost its bid for partial summary judgment on its trademark claims when a California federal judge ruled that it is up to a jury to decide if the two entertainment festivals are similar enough to cause consumer confusion. If a jury ultimately finds there is confusion between the two trademarks, that could constitute infringement. There are many trademark cases where the confusion is obvious, leading the way for an infringement judgment, but there are many instances where the confusion is not so clear. How does it apply in this case?
The names are similar, Filmchella and Coachella, but is that enough, is there confusion? One is a massively popular and famous music festival, the other is a small, relatively unknown film festival. And while the argument can be made that they both promote and present entertainment and therefore provide services in the same market, the judge did point out that even though Filmchella included some small, local, and unpaid musical bands in addition to its primary feature of 138 independent films, that is a far cry from featuring mega-stars like Beyoncé, Madonna and Coldplay that have been featured at Coachella. Furthermore, the judge noted that Coachella has not featured independent films in a decade. Is that enough of a difference not to cause confusion, or are the lines still blurred? That will be a question for the jury.
As the case heads to trial, Simms recently posted on his website that the festival has changed its name from Filmchella, but continues to fight for the Filmchella domain names and social media accounts.
What is important to take away from this case is that if you intend to establish a product and a brand that shares a similar or nearly identical name of another trademarked product and brand, you need to conduct due diligence to determine if you could be subject to infringement claims.