This week, Disney filed a legal claim against Joel Zimmerman (Deadmau5), in an attempt to stop Zimmerman from trademarking his now-iconic mau5 head logo in the United States. According to Disney, the Deadmau5 logo is too similar to their Mickey Mouse ears, so he cannot have the right to claim it as his. Zimmerman's trademark application, filed last year by Ronica Holdings Limited, is still pending. It seeks to cover electrical and scientific apparatuses, paper goods, leather goods, vehicles, light beverages, entertainment services, and toys. According to Zimmerman's attorney, the artist already has trademarks in 30 other countries.
"landed home to some interesting news: looks like Disney officially just filed in opposition of my trademark... lawyer up mickey."— deadmau5 (@deadmau5) September 3, 2014
In a shocking display of single-mindedness, Eriq Gardner of The Hollywood Reporter argued that if Zimmerman wins, he'll have the right to sue those who confuse the Mickey Mouse ears for the Deadmau5 logo. Gardner asked, "What... is Deadmau5's intent on gaining trademark registration in the first place?"
This question completely ignores the fact that artists—like corporations—need to be able to create and monetize their own brands. The reason why Zimmerman wants to trademark his logo is not because he wants to profit off his resemblence to Mickey Mouse. It's because he wants to prevent other mau5 head-toting people from profiting off their resemblence to him.
In order to understand the full complexity of this trademark quabble, it's important to understand what a trademark even is, and why they're important.
"Disney thinks you might confuse an established electronic musician / performer with a cartoon mouse. That's how stupid they think you are."— deadmau5 (@deadmau5) September 3, 2014
The US Patent and Trademark Office defines a trademark as a "symbol... that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others." If Zimmerman wins this trademarking case, he'll have legal ownership of his mau5-head logo, the exclusive right to use the logo everywhere in the United States, and the ability to pursue legal action in federal court if someone violates his right to the logo. From this information alone, it's clear why Zimmerman, who has a huge online store selling everything from HD headphones to graphic T-shirts, needs to deter counterfeit merchandise by trademarking his logo in the United States.
Instead of arguing over whether Deadmau5's logo looks too similar to Mickey Mouse, these are the two big questions that everyone should be asking:
First, why didn't Disney—a company with a long history of forcing much smaller entities, like daycare centers in Florida, to remove cartoon figures from their walls due to a "likelihood of confusion"— go after Zimmerman a long time ago? In a 2012 interview with Rolling Stone, Zimmerman himself echoed this question, remarking (with typical flippancy), "Someone at the Disney patent office fell asleep on that one."
Given that Ferrari wasted no time sending a cease and desist letter to Zimmerman, asking him to remove all the custom vinyls and badges on his "Purrari" supercar, it seems fishy that Disney has been resting on their laurels for such a long time. After all, the mau5head has appeared on almost all of Zimmerman's albums, going as far back as his 2005 release Get Scraped.
Second, if Disney wins, what impact will this have on the electronic music industry at large? Many artists' names and logos are playful derivations of existing, well-established brands; a Deadmau5 loss could provide precedent for future legal action against many others.
It's no secret that EDM is becoming big business—the industry is pulling in $6.2 billion annually and counting. The earnings of DJs like Calvin Harris and David Guetta, published in Forbes' Highest Paid DJs List (a list we cheekily took a jab at here) rivals those of many CEOs. Even "dance music law" is big business: the estbalished law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips recently hired Diplo's lawyer, David Rappaport, as a partner in their expanding EDM division.
The outcome of Deadmau5 versus Disney will set a precedent that will be an important reference as the EDM industry continues to grow, and legal disputes between artists and old giants become more commonplace. Whoever stands out on top at the end of this will be a sign of things to come.
Ziad Ramley's Twitter is USPTO-compliant: @bluuuuueeeeeee
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