In a unanimous decision Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment does not provide protection to a dog chew toy that bears resemblance to a bottle of Jack Daniel’s in a trademark infringement lawsuit.
The justices ruled against VIP Products LLC, rejecting their argument that their products, including the “Bad Spaniels” toy, should be protected as free speech under the First Amendment.
“We hold only that it is not appropriate when the accused infringer has used a trademark to designate the source of its own goods—in other words, has used a trademark as a trademark. That kind of use falls within the heartland of trademark law and does not receive special First Amendment protection,” Justice Elena Kagan said in the decision.
The court clarified that parodies are only excluded from protection when they refrain from using a well-known mark to identify the source of the diluted product.
In 2020, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of VIP Products, affirming that their toys are protected by the First Amendment. Jack Daniel’s, the popular Tennessee whiskey company, subsequently sought additional review from the Supreme Court, stating that the “poop-themed dog toy” infringes on its trademark, confuses consumers, and tarnishes its reputation as it “associates its whiskey with dog poop.”
The toy, designed in the shape and style of a Jack Daniel’s bottle, prominently displays a spaniel on the label with the words “Bad Spaniels” instead of the well-known Jack Daniel’s branding, with the small print at the bottom indicating 40% alcohol by volume replaced with a humorous claim that reads “43% poo by volume, 100% smelly.” Additionally, the toy’s neck reads “The Old No. 2 On Your Tennessee Carpet,” replacing the “Old No. 7 Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey” branding.
The toy was manufactured by VIP Products, the country’s second-largest dog toy manufacturer, and on their website, you can see the brand makes a lot of similar toys that parody other famous brands.