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Bravado sued in Rolling Stones lips dispute

By | Published on Thursday 30 March 2023


A North Carolina-based company that sells t-shirts and other clothing has sued Universal Music’s merch business Bravado in a big old dispute over some lips.

That company, Simply Southern, says in its lawsuit that it was forced to go legal after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from Bravado over various t-shirts it sells that feature a cartoonish set of lips. At least two different cartoonish sets of lips, in fact.

The Universal division reckons that those lips are very like the tongue and lips logo famously employed by The Rolling Stones since the early 1970s. And Bravado, see, manages merch for the Stones.

“In the letter”, the lawsuit explains, “Bravado claims that Simply Southern has been selling products bearing ‘confusingly similar’ versions of the ‘tongue/lips trademark’, thereby alleging infringement of trademark, copyright and/or other intellectual property rights that Bravado claims entitlement to bring claims about, without directly stating what rights have allegedly been infringed”.

But, argues the lawsuit, “Simply Southern’s use of mouth images on its products, and its products, did not, and does not, infringe on any rights held by or enforceable by Bravado, whether under US copyright, US trademark law, or other law. Simply Southern’s images are neither copies of nor impermissibly derivative of Bravado’s asserted tongue/lips image”.

After all: “There are countless ways to depict a human mouth: closed or open to varying degrees; differing plumpness of lips; with or without teeth, and in different numbers and shapes of teeth; with or without a tongue; tongue resting in mouth or protruding outward; tongue directed up, down, or to the side; varying colours, saturation, and pattern; etc”.

“Simply Southern’s mouth images show many elements that are very different from Bravado’s asserted tongue/lips image”, the lawsuit argues.

“For example, Simply Southern’s images have a more plump lower lip, more square teeth, and a wider and more open mouth when compared to Bravado’s asserted image. Another image has a differently directed tongue. The lip/mouth angles and lengths are also significantly different. Moreover, one or more of Simply Southern’s images depicts lips and/or tongues that are not red and/or are patterned”.

“Also”, it continues, “because the mouth is an inherently expressive body part, subtle changes in shape and positioning result in markedly different interpretations of emotional expression”.

“Bravado’s asserted image is mostly devoid of emotion but has slight hints of either playfulness or defiance. By contrast, Simply Southern’s images are deeply expressive. The images can also be seen as artistic comments upon prior depictions of mouths in pop culture”.

As a result, the Simply Southern lips and the Rolling Stones lips are “clearly and demonstrably different”, and there is no “likelihood of confusion, mistake or deception” as a result of the clothing company selling its lippy t-shirts. Or so the lawsuit claims.

With all that in mind, the plaintiff would like the court to confirm it is not infringing the copyright, trademarks or any other rights of the Rolling Stones or their merch-making buddies at Bravado.