Nike has filed a patent infringement case against the makers of Lil Nas X's 'Satan Shoes.'
Nike has filed a lawsuit against the art group behind the Lil Nas X "Satan Shoes," which have caused outrage on social media.
Nike accuses MSCHF Product Studio, Inc. of trademark infringement over the designer's 666 pairs of revamped Nike sneakers created in conjunction with the "Old Town Road" artist, according to a lawsuit filed Monday. On Monday, all 666 pairs were sold out.
MSCHF has declined to comment on the complaint despite repeated requests.
Nike (NKE) requested that the court order MSCHF to "permanently cease" fulfilling orders for the "unauthorized" Lil Nas X Satan Shoes in its lawsuit. According to the lawsuit, social media users have threatened to boycott Nike because of the controversy surrounding the shoes.
The case does not name Lil Nas X as a defendant. Calls and emails seeking comment from the musician's representatives were not returned Monday night.
In its lawsuit, Nike claims that "MSCHF and its unauthorized Satan Shoes are likely to cause confusion and dilution, as well as establish an erroneous connection between MSCHF's products and Nike." "Nike has sustained considerable damage to its goodwill in the short time since the launch of the Satan Shoes, even among customers who believe Nike is promoting satanism."
Nike has released statements to a number of media outlets, including CNN, stating that it "does not have a partnership with Lil Nas or MSCHF" and that "Nike did not design or release these shoes, and we do not support them."
MSCHF's new personalized Nike footwear product is the updated black and red Nike Air Max 97 sneakers, which feature a bronze pentagram charm and a drop of human blood in the mid-sole. In 2019, the company launched a pair of custom-made "Jesus Shoes."
Nike said that the Satan Shoes prominently display Nike's iconic Swoosh logo in its complaint.
Last week, the music video for Lil Nas X's new single "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)" sparked a firestorm of controversy. The provocatively dressed singer is depicted as both a fallen angel and a demon in the video, riding a stripper pole to hell and performing a lap dance for the devil.
Lil Nas teased the unveiling of his latest Satan shoes on Twitter after the video's release on Friday.
Lil Nas X reacted to the backlash with a Facebook post the next day, writing, "I spent my entire teenage years hating myself because of the s**t y'all preached will happen to me because I was gay." "So I hope you're angry, stay mad, and feel the same kind of rage you teach us to feel against ourselves."
Trademark attorneys weigh in
According to several trademark lawyers, the entire episode has all the ingredients for a possible historic court dispute over the existing boundaries of intellectual property law. Nike has good grounds for its case, they argue.
"Yes, Nike has a colorable argument for trademark infringement and dilution by tarnishment," said Alexandra J. Roberts of the University of New Hampshire's Franklin Pierce School of Law, who teaches trademark and entertainment law. "Consumers may be led to believe that Nike has approved or endorsed the Satan Shoes. Nike may also say that the use tarnishes its name by associating it with Satanic symbols."
The trademark problem at hand, according to Roberts and other lawyers, is known as the First Sale Doctrine, which allows anyone who purchase a copy of a copyrighted item to resell it without the creator's permission.
According to trademark attorney Josh Gerben of Gerben Perrott PLLC, it's a legal rationale that allows artists who buy and repurpose individual copyrighted goods to express and benefit from their own innovation. Nike shoe redesigners like MSCHF, according to Gerben, often sell their work on online marketplaces.
"You've got all sorts of artists out there who will take a shoe and do a bunch of custom art on it and then resell it for $1,000-3,000," Gerben said. "Nike is well aware of this and has done little to distract from it because there is a sneaker culture here."
According to Gerben, the issue for Lil Nas X and MSCHF in this case is the hundreds of shoes that were sold, since individual pieces of art are easier to defend in court than mass-produced objects.
"Because there are so many of these [shoes], people are assuming Nike is behind it," he said. "It's not just a simple piece of art created from a shoe by a single person. It's because someone took a bunch of Nike shoes, customized them all the same way, and then sold them in such a sophisticated manner that people believe Nike is involved."