Souvenir Merchandise Distributor Alleges Balenciaga Stole 'New York City' Tote Design
Yesterday, we investigated the move by Mayo, Florida to rename itself “Miracle Whip,” using the backlash by residents and a civic-minded official to see if our readership agreed with the location’s decision as a means to acquire beautification funds. Today, thanks to a lawyer who practices fashion and intellectual property law, we are interested in looking at whether a company should let slide an alleged imitation by another merchandise business so as to generate more brand awareness. In the latter matter, City Merchandise is contending that the American subsidiary of Balenciaga created luxury knockoffs of its reasonably priced souvenirs, with their elementary-stage confrontation resonating as an atypical dustup between merchandise providers.
As IPWatchdog notes in its account of the squabble, Balenciaga finds itself in the role of high-profile defendant, whereas entities such as itself typically play the aggressor in copyright infringement ordeals. In a 14-page lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York, City Merchandise, with a 32-year history that has seen it come to handle more than 2,000 accounts in over 100 cities, posits that the New York City pink collage design—that dates back to around November 2014 and that it secured a copyright for on February 8—became the component of exorbitantly priced Balenciaga tote bags and purses.
Left: A souvenir NYC tote bag in the JFK airport gift shop. Right: The Balenciaga version that’s retailing for $1950 right now. Demna, you sly dog! pic.twitter.com/dWG2Q3R3pP
— Alyssa Vingan Klein (@alyssavingan) February 25, 2018
With respect to what the supposed mimicry means to the integrity of City Merchandise, IPWatchdog connected with Biana Borukhovich, the aforementioned attorney who runs an eponymous office. The legal representative explored the directions in which the case could go, with her second point that “if anything, Balenciaga’s products are adding value to City Merchandise’s products” being particularly telling.
Obviously, as the IPWatchdog author rightly mentions, the spat is quite young, but no matter for how long it has gone on, it brings up an interesting conversation or two. Yes, Borukhovich is correct in the article’s conclusion, where she addresses the ramifications of any company’s desire to place buildings on shirts, with the City Merchandise products including the Empire State Building, Freedom Tower and Statue of Liberty. But that is secondary to the overall question—born out of her mention that any alleged pilfering could actually help City Merchandise—of whether the plaintiff should even have sought legal assistance.
We are not ones for saying that everyone should be litigious, but the law is there to assist parties that feel affronted. Though Borukhovich contends that high-end brands do not often lift artwork or designs from lesser renowned businesses, IPWatchdog, in unpacking parts of City Merchandise’s lawsuit, relays that Balenciaga, set to turn 100 next year, has a history of fending off allegations of such behavior. Since the defendant is marketing the New York City homages in its flagship boutique stores and through upscale retailers, there will be no shortage of opportunities for the legal teams to analyze the lawfulness of how Balenciaga is operating and the worthwhile nature of City Merchandise’s gripes.