Laura Etheridge and Rita O’Donnell, the CEO and Creative Director of Clean Clothes (a Texas-based lesbian women’s clothing line) brainstormed together and came up with a tagline for their new slacks line: “Masculine Attitude, Feminine Fit.” They market the product on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook showcasing their “Funky Femme” slacks collection, made from a material that resembles alpaca wool but is actually organic cotton. To further the advertising impact, the team uses an Ellen DeGeneres look-alike in the YouTube video, where the model does the “Ellen dance” – and mouths “love the pants” as she points to her legs, and then walks off leading an Alpaca by a halter. Within months, the slacks are a huge hit in the lesbian community. Clean Clothes sends a letter to their attorney asking him to trademark their tagline and moves forward without another thought about it.
Meanwhile, Men2Wimmin, a French company with a branch in New York, has established a huge following in the gay and cross-dressing community. It has used the tagline “Feminine Attitude, Masculine Fit” for many years to advertise its drag queen dress collection for men on billboards, the Internet, and television.
Ellen DeGeneres learns that her likeness is being used to advertise for Clean Clothes. She watches the ad and is incensed. She spends the next week on her show bashing the Clean Clothes company and states that she would never endorse the use of Alpaca wool for clothing as she feels shearing them is cruel. (She doesn’t catch that the pants are really made from cotton.) Further, she says she feels that lesbian women should not need to shop at special stores, although she admits she often shops in the men’s department at Joseph A. Bank (JOSB). Her comments cause a precipitous drop in sales at both Joseph A. Bank (JOSB) and Clean Clothes. Using the above fact pattern, analyze the following questions fully.
1. TCO F. Ellen DeGeneres sues Clean Clothes for the use of a look-alike model for the slacks advertisement. She includes Lanham Act, misappropriation, and “right of publicity” claims in her complaint. Clean Clothes countersues for product disparagement. Joseph A. Bank (JOSB) sues Ellen for impacting their men’s clothing sales with her unsolicited comment. What facts will Ellen use to support her cases, and why will those support her cases? What defenses will Ellen have against Clean Clothes’s and JOSB’s countersuits? Do you think any of the three will win their cases? Why or why not? (Points: 30)
2. TCO G. It is discovered that 2 weeks before the Ellen show, she had sold $2 million in JOSB stock (at a gain of about $2,200). The morning after her show, Ellen sold JOSB short (which means she was betting the stock price would go down), and she made another $210,000 in the next week on that trade. The swing in the price was not directly tied to her comments but was suspected to be a result of a recall JOSB made on their entire line of men’s black and brown dress slacks when it was discovered that they had been sewn together with white thread. Ellen’s previous trading activity shows that she made it a normal practice to “vigorously trade” the stock of any company with which she did business. A review of her trading activity for the past year showed that she had bought and sold JOSB stock 25 different times, including short sales like this one. Her overall trading for JOSB stock for the last 12 months was a net loss of $82,000.00. Do you think the SEC will file anything against Ellen for her sales of JOSB? Is there any cause to do so? Analyze her transactions with respect to insider trading activity (based on what you know) and whether she should be concerned. Is her prior trading activity a defense? Should Ellen have avoided discussing JOSB publicly on her show because she typically trades their stock? (Points: 30)