If you had never heard of the mega-music and arts festival Coachella before, you may have heard about it recently after Beyoncé‘s culturally historical 2018 performance that got the event affectionately renamed by fans on social media as Beychella.
Needless to say, with previous big-name headliners like Queen Bey herself, Kendrick Lamar, Guns N’ Roses, Drake, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and many more, Coachella has certainly set a high standard and has a brand and reputation to protect.
It was this very fight for brand protection that landed Trevor Simms, the organizer of a California film festival called Filmchella smack dab in the middle of a trademark dispute with the organizers of the notoriously sold-out event Coachella over the permitted use of “chella.”
According to court documents, in August 2017, Coachella Music Festival, LLC and Goldenvoice, LLC filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against Robert Trevor Simms, the organizer of Filmchella, a three-day film festival to be held in Southern California near the location where Coachella is held.
Coachella had no issue with Simms facilitating the event. In fact, Coachella said they even said that they “appreciate the enthusiasm shown by [Simms],” according to the original complaint. They did, however, have an issue with the name of the event and stated that they had repeatedly asked Simms to change his name to “one which avoids confusion, conflict, and false association” with Coachella.
Simms, however, had his own story to tell about how Coachella went about it.
The Hollywood Reporter reports that Simms claims he was actually harassed by Coachella over the name, even multiple times a day. “They’re trying to shut me down and steal my property like greedy corporate monsters,” said Simms. “I offered to partner up with them, but they’d rather try to steal it from me.”
According to Desert Sun, Simms said that he was not going to go down without a fight. “They’re going to have to make me,” he said.
Goldenvoice’s lawyers approached Simms earlier that summer regarding the name of his event. In response, Simms gave in a little bit and changed the name to Fimchilla, but that wasn’t good enough for Goldenvoice.
According to the lawsuit, Goldenvoice said that the “single-letter change is insufficient to dispel any consumer confusion.”
As promised, Simms stuck to his guns and refused to make any further changes to the name. Coachella and Goldenvoice accepted the challenge and the parties took it to the courts to let them decide.
Court documents obtained by The Hollywood Reporter show that in October 2017, the Court issued a preliminary injunction against Simms. The injunction prohibited Simms from using “Filmchella,” “Filmchilla,” or any other related variations to promote his event.
Coachella and Goldenvoice then filed a motion for partial summary judgment as to Simms’ liability for trademark infringement.
LEGAL-EASE: Summary judgment is an attempt to bring a case to a quick resolution by one of the parties. If that party believes that there are no material facts in dispute, they will file a motion for summary judgment, asking the court to make a decision without taking the case to trial based on the facts at hand. They also have the burden of proof to sufficiently show the court that no “reasonable trier of fact” could rule in favor of the other. It is then up to the other party to prove otherwise by presenting evidence that is sufficient enough to raise an issue about the material facts that must be decided in a trial.
In their summary judgment motion, Coachella and Goldenvoice argued that Simms was liable for trademark infringement for his use of “Filmchella,” “Filmchilla,” and other similar terms in his promotions.
To succeed on a trademark infringement claim, Coachella would have had to show that there was a reasonable likelihood of confusion between the two names. The Court didn’t agree that that was the case here.
They said that while the two events had some similarities, there were also had major differences that set the two events apart and that they “may not directly compete with each other now or in the future.” The Court felt that this was an issue that could and should be decided by a jury and denied the summary judgment motion.
THE FINAL RESULT
With the denial of the summary judgment motion, the case was set to go to trial in early October, however, it didn’t make it that far. Fortunately, the two parties were able to come to a resolution out of court (as with most cases).
Earlier this month, a permanent injunction and final judgment was ordered by U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner. According to that document, Simms will no longer use the name “Filmchella,” “Filmchilla,” or any other like names or terms. He will also transfer all related domain names to Coachella/Goldenvoice. (The injunction can be viewed here.)
Simms hasn’t commented on the details of the resolution or how or why those terms were agreed upon, but I’m just happy the two were able to amicably bring their long-standing dispute to an end.
THE LEGAL LESSON
Inspiration is great, but when your name is too similar or closely related to the works of another, it could land you in some trademark infringement trouble.
As creatives, we all have our favorites that inspire us in one way or another. However, don’t forget to remain that way – creative! Make sure that your ideas and names are all your own to avoid any potential disputes with other parties.
What do you think about the Coachella vs. Filmchella case? Do you agree with the outcome? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!