#OscarGiftBag is the new viral hashtag spurring controversy this awards season. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has filed suit in a California federal court seeking an injunction and treble profits and damages against the marketing company Distinctive Assets for trademark infringement. Distinctive Assets specializes in promoting products through celebrities and has advertised its “swag bag” using the Oscars’ registered trademark with phrases such as “Everyone Wins At The Oscars®! Nominee Gift Bags,” and “Everyone Wins Nominee Gift Bags in Honor of the Oscars®.” However, the Academy does not sponsor, award, provide for, or endorse these gift bags and has already pressured Distinctive Assets into disclaiming that it “will not purposefully make an association between its gift bags and [Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences] going forward.” Nevertheless, news outlets such as TMZ, Vanity Fair, and Glamour have already run stories with headlines including “Oscars Gift Bag: Take a Peak Inside This Year’s $168,000 Bounty,” thus mistakenly advancing the idea that Distinctive Assets is somehow connected with the Academy. In the complaint, the Academy explains that:
“Press about the 2016 gift bags has focused on both the less-than-wholesome nature of some of the products contained in the bags, which purportedly include a $250 marijuana vaporizer, a $1,900 “vampire breast lift,” skin treatments by Park Avenue plastic surgeons valued at more than $5,500, a $250 sex toy, and $275 Swiss-made toilet paper, and the unseemliness of giving such high value gifts, including trips costing tens of thousands of dollars, to an elite group of celebrities.”
Represented by the firm Quinn Emanuel, the Academy claims that by using the Oscars’ famous trademarks to promote its Oscars gift bag not only constitutes trademark infringement but also tarnishes the Academy’s goodwill and dilutes the distinctiveness of its marks.
Loren Shokes is an Entertainment and Sports Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current second year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2017).