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3 Reasons Why Luxury Goods Will Ignore the Groundswell: Louis Vuitton Gets "Brandjacked"

Nadiaplesner_lv_knockoffThis morning Jeremiah Owyang twittered a story about Nadia Pleisner, a Danish artist who has been sued by Louis Vuitton Mallatier for brand jacking the flagship Murakami handbag on her t-shirt.

From having worked with Louis Vuitton and having blogged about them here and here and here, I think Louis Vuitton is going to pursue the case, and prevail.

The lawsuit has brought Nadia much publicity and much traffic to her website and Facebook page, which in a little over a week has amassed 2,260 fans. Compare this to Darfur advocate and NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who has 4,311 fans after launching his Facebook page on March 13.

While her web page is pure commerce, she's using her Facebook page to state her arguments. First, Nadia argues that Louis Vuitton is trying to destroy her life. Second, she wonders why Louis Vuitton is going after a little charity and not all of the knockoffs in China. Thirdly, she claims that she never used the (Murakami) bag, but her image was "inspired by the bag". And, she argues that

"...When Aqua made the song Barbie Girl, Martell (note: I'm sure she means 'Mattel') lost their case. The reason? The reason being that Barbie has become an everyday word, used about more than just the dulls. Just like 'hand me a Kleenex'."

Unfortunately, Nadia has chosen the worst target. Of all of the luxury brands, Louis Vuitton has been one of the most aggressive at protecting its marks, having recently scored a victory against Google. After thinking about it, I think there are three reasons why Louis Vuitton -- and all luxury goods manufacturers -- will continue to fight against the groundswell specifically when it comes to brand hijacking:

  1. People have short attention spans. While Darfur is certainly a hot button today, it has taken only a couple of years  to forget the tsunami in Southeast Asia, the enormous earthquake that levelled Bam, or when Hurricane Beta devastated Honduras. Besides, the people that joined Nadia's Facebook page were probably not core Louis Vuitton customers.
  2. It's critical to establish precedent. In every case, Louis Vuitton is providing the opportunity to cease and desist quietly. Most of the time people avoid litigation. But when someone chooses to take a stand, that's when Louis Vuitton truly swings into action. Every Louis Vuitton victory - whether with a knockoff merchant, a Canal Street landlord, or giants like Google - clearly establishes what is fair and what is not fair. (A hint to Nadia: an apology goes a long way.)
  3. Don't invite future extortion. From my perspective, to walk away is to invite more sophisticated approaches to brand hijacking. The music industry mostly ignored illegal copying for years. When there was a critical mass of illegal copies it paved the way for Napster and Kazaa. When I hear some of the suggestions - like creating events or trying to educate people - it sounds like a blueprint for extorting free marketing funds.

While visiting San Francisco in 2005 I had an opportunity to meet DJ Danger Mouse (a.k.a. Brian Burton) a few months after he released his infamous Grey album, a mashup of Jay-Z's The Black Album and the Beatles' White Album. When asked about the labels' reaction, he was very subdued and clearly didn't want to talk about it. But guess what? Years later, Brian released a new album under a different pseudonym, Gnarls Barkley, and scored big with the single "Crazy".

So Nadia, even if Louis Vuitton should happen to prevail, it won't be the end of the world.

Not even close.

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