In a world where name ownership and brand management is a massive financial windfall – and protection – for actors, singers and musicians, US pop sensation Mariah Carey is the latest celebrity embroiled in a trademark dispute.
Unlike the Grinch who tried to steal Christmas and ruin festive cheer for everyone in Whoville, Carey is reportedly attempting to register the term “Queen of Christmas” as a trademark only she can use.
Is there a backlash? You bet there is.
And the opposition is coming from other US holiday singers who’ve spent decades spreading goodwill at Christmas time.
LA singer Darlene Love, who has spent six decades singing Christmas songs, and Christmas music singer/songwriter Elizabeth Chan, who has devoted her 14-year career to yuletides, are angry and looking at their legal options in a bid to save Christmas and stop Carey from monopolising it.
Love, 81, took to social media “feeling confused”: “Is it true that Mariah Carey trade-marked ‘Queen of Christmas’? What does that mean that I can’t use that title?
“David Letterman officially declared me the Queen of Christmas 29 years ago, a year before she released All I want For Christmas Is You and at 81 years of age I’m NOT changing anything.”
Chan, who records exclusively Christmas music and has previously been called the “Queen of Christmas” in the media after an album of the same name, has already lawyered up, heading to the trademark trial and appeal board (United States Patent and Trademark Office, USPTO) to stop Carey.
“Christmas has come way before any of us on earth, and hopefully will be around way after any of us on earth,” Chan told Variety.
“And I feel very strongly that no one person should hold on to anything around Christmas or monopolise it in the way that Mariah seeks to in perpetuity.
“That’s just not the right thing to do. Christmas is for everyone. It’s meant to be shared … it’s not meant to be owned.”
Ms Chan said it wasn’t just the music business, and that Carey was seeking to register “Queen of Christmas” for future use on several products: “If you knit a ‘queen of Christmas’ sweater, you should be able to sell it on Etsy to somebody else so they can buy it for their grandma.
“It’s crazy — it would have that breadth of registration.”
‘Mary’ – not Mariah – is the Queen of Christmas
While Carey is yet to comment on the latest furore, she has previously told the BBC she didn’t want the title of Queen of Christmas, saying the real queen was the religious figurehead of Christianity, Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ.
Speaking to the Zoe Ball Breakfast Show on December 17, she said it was “other people” who had dubbed her the queen.
“That was other people, and I just want to humbly say that I don’t consider myself that.
“I’m someone that loves Christmas, that happened to be blessed to write ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You.’
“And a lot of other Christmas songs. And let’s face it, you know, everybody’s faith is what it is. But to me, Mary is the Queen of Christmas.”
Fast-forward to this week.
Pro-bono lawyer acting for Chan, Louis W Tompros, from the Boston-based WilmerHale law firm, confirmed on its website on August 16 it was representing Chan “in her opposition to Mariah Carey’s company Lotion LLC’s application to register the trademark ‘Queen of Christmas’.
“[She] has sought to register ‘Queen of Christmas’ for future use on products ranging from music, to perfume, to sunglasses, to coconut milk,” a statement read.
It said Chan “has embraced and used the moniker “Queen of Christmas” since 2014.
Other celebrity trademark disputes
Quite rightly, celebrities, including Justin Bieber, Dua Lipa, Britney Spears, Celine Dion, Usain Bolt, Brad Pitt, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Taylor Swift and Kim Kardashian, to name a few, have registered their names as trademarks at the USPTO.
But for some stars, not without dispute along the way.
According to US media and entertainment law journal, Fordham, trademark issues around celebrities are nothing new – and they’re big business.
“These celebrities claim trademark rights over their names not only for purposes associated with their main businesses, namely entertainment services, but also for items such as clothing, footwear, handbags, cosmetics, jewellery, souvenirs.
“Celebrities have realised they can capitalise on their image and reputation through trademark protection to make a profit while exposing their image to the world.
“[They] seek trademark protection for everything related to them, including their children’s names, catchphrases, pets, song lyrics, and even their poses … [and] can also use trademark protection to prevent others from exploiting their goodwill and reputation or gaining cheap fame,” wrote business lawyer Dat Nguyen.
Blue Ivy Carter v Blue Ivy:
JAY-Z and Beyoncé endured a long-lasting legal battle to trademark daughter Blue Ivy’s name after a Massachusetts wedding planner Veronica Morales tried to block Beyoncé as her company was called Blue Ivy Events.
In documents filed, the Law & Crime network reported that Morales’ “‘likelihood of confusion” argument was frivolous, because consumers are unlikely to confuse “a boutique wedding event planning business and Blue Ivy Carter, the daughter of two of the most famous performers in the world.”
She called her daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, a “cultural icon”.
In July, 2020, the trademark appeals board ruled in favour of Beyonce, and said Morales’ Trademark trial opposition was “unnecessary and a waste of time”.
Kylie Minogue v Kylie Jenner: Minogue famously blocked the reality TV star from trademarking their shared first name.
In 2014, before Jenner launched her now-million-dollar beauty brand, she applied to trademark ‘Kylie’ for “advertising” and “endorsement services” in the US.
In 2016, Minogue filed a notice of opposition that argued granting Jenner the trademark would “violate and diminish the prior and superior rights of” Minogue and likely cause confusion, damaging her brand.
It said Minogue would sell perfume, clothes and other products with the name ‘Kylie’ on the branding. She has also owned the website domain kylie.com since August 1996 (Jenner was born in 1997).
The US Patent and Trademark Office eventually rejected Jenner’s application, giving the victory to Minogue.
US singer Taylor Swift: Swift went on a “trademark spree in 2015”, according to People, when she attempted to register the phrases “this sick beat,” “Nice to meet you, where you been?” and “Party like it’s 1989,” among roughly 30 others.
She lost one battle against Blue Sphere, a California company that took her to court over the phrase “Lucky 13”.
“The company ran the Lucky 13 clothing brand, while Swift just really liked the number, running a “Lucky 13” sweepstakes and a partnership with a greeting card company. They eventually settled out of court,” People reported.