The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in favor of Jack Daniel's in a trademark fight over "poop-themed" dog toys that resemble the company's famous whiskey bottles.
The justices on a 9-0 vote ruled against VIP Products LLC, which argued that its products — including the "Bad Spaniels" toy shaped like a whiskey bottle — are obvious parodies and should therefore be protected as free speech under the First Amendment.
In a narrow ruling, the court returned the dispute to lower courts for further proceedings.
Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the court, said that VIP's alleged infringement of the Jack Daniel's trademark "falls within the heartland of trademark law, and does not receive special First Amendment protection."
A label on the toy’s neck says “Old No. 2” in reference to the “Old No. 7” label on Jack Daniel’s bottles. It also says “Old No. 2 on your Tennessee Carpet” on the body in reference to the “Old No. 7 Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey” main label featured on the whiskey bottles.
The whiskey maker, describing the offending products as “poop-themed dog toys,” countered that there is a likelihood of confusion, meaning the product violates trademark law.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2020 ruled in favor of VIP Products, saying its toys are protected under the First Amendment, which prompted Jack Daniel’s to seek further review from the Supreme Court.
Various companies, including Nike Inc., Campbell Soup Co. and American Apparel, filed briefs backing Jack Daniel’s, saying the appeals court’s interpretation of the law threatened trademark protections that shield the value of iconic brands.
Free speech advocates, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, filed briefs backing VIP, citing the importance of people being able to comment on and mock famous brands.