Who Holds Legal Title to “Chella”?

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The fate of Coachella Music Festival and Filmchella is in the jury’s hands. On September 10, 2018, U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner, denied Coachella’s motion for partial summary judgment on its trademark claims against Filmchella founder Robert T. Simms. Coachella, a world-renowned music and arts festival in Indio, California takes place over two weekends and attendance is estimated at nearly 750,000 attendees. In 2015, it was the top grossing music festival in the world with estimated gross ticket sales in excess of $84 million dollars. Coachella Music Festival LLC and owner, Goldenvoice LLC, sued Simms in August 2017 accusing him of trading on the music festival’s popularity to entice festivalgoers to attend his three-day outdoor movie festival, Filmchella. In its motion for partial summary judgment as to liability, Coachella argued, “Simms has used the Coachella marks and the infringing Filmchella designations to put on a competing festival and to promote that festival,” noting that this type of use is “commercial” which is sufficient to support a trademark infringement claim. Coachella called Simm’s use of the Filmchella name a “blatant attempt to trade off Plaintiff’s goodwill.” In fact, Plaintiffs repeatedly note that Simms himself described Filmchella as “Coachella for Movies.”

Coachella tried to stop Filmchella altogether by sending Simms a cease-and-desist letter, but he threw the festival anyway. Simms also filed a trademark application for Filmcella after receiving the cease and desist letter. According to Coachella, it sends over 200 cease and desists letters and emails on average each year to unauthorized users in an attempt to “diligently protect the Coachella Marks.”

In denying Coachella partial summary judgment, Judge Klausner found that a reasonable jury could find that the two festivals are not similar enough to be confused and noted that while the Filmchella marks look and sound “somewhat similar” to the Coachella marks, there are “important differences.” The judge also noted that although the “festivals share commonalities, they also have significant differences and may not directly compete with each other now or in the future,” and thus, “[t]he jury is entitled to weigh these facts to determine whether a reasonably prudent consumer is likely to be confused.”

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