Kanye West Brings Trademark Suit over Online Currency

Hip-hop artist Kanye West has filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the operators of a digital currency called “Coinye West.”

Within hours after the complaint was filed, the defendant’s website was taken down and replaced with the message “Coinye is dead. You win, Kanye.”

Amazon, which hosted the website, was also named as a defendant, along with other named and “John Doe” parties.

The suit claims that the Coinye operators “usurped” West’s brand in order to increase the value of their virtual currency, which is similar to Bitcoin and launched on January 7.

According to the complaint, “Although defendants could have chosen any name for their cryptocurrency, they deliberately chose to trade upon the goodwill associated with Mr. West by adopting names that are admitted plays on his name.”

Coinye admitted adopted the name as an homage to West, and expressed the hope that the performer would “name drop” Coinye.

The currency’s logo originally showed a cartoon version of West’s face on a coin.  The logo was later replaced with a “half-man-half-fish hybrid who is wearing sunglasses.”

The complaint includes causes of action for trademark infringement, unfair competition, trademark dilution, cybersquatting, state law deceptive practices, and violating West’s protected name and likeness.

West’s trademark lawyer said that the removal of the website would not end the matter and that his client would continue to pursue the defendants for damages.

Under the right of publicity, also called the “personality right,” a person can control the commercial use of his or her name or image.  This right is considered a property right and can even survive death in some jurisdictions.

For example, Albert Einstein bequeathed his estate to HebrewUniversity, which licenses the right to use his image in educational materials and commercial products.

The right to prevent one’s name or likeness from being used commercially without permission is similar to a trademark right.

Stay up-to-date on the latest Intellectual Property Law news from Sheldon Mak & Anderson.


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