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Court sides with Coachella in Filmchella dispute

The name of Robert Simms' fledgling California film festival is sufficiently similar to cause "irreparable injury" to Coachella, a US judge has found

By Jon Chapple on 12 Oct 2017

Filmchella 2017

image © dynamitebling/Instagram

A California court has ruled in favour of Coachella Music Festival in its trademark spat with film festival Filmchella, granting a preliminary injunction against the latter after finding its name is liable to cause “consumer confusion” with the long-running Indio event.

In a complaint filed with the district court of central California in August, lawyers representing Coachella and its promoter, Goldenvoice, accused Filmchella founder Robert Trevor Simms and up to 20 other “John Doe” defendants of servicemark infringement, false designation of origin, brand dilution, cybersquatting and unfair competition over “attempts to operate a directly competitive festival” close to the Coachella festival site in Indio, California.

Law firm Tucker Ellis alleged the new event of “trading on the goodwill of [the] plaintiffs’ famous Coachella festival” by describing its event as the “Coachella for movies” and “the rock’n’roll festival for filmmakers and fans” and registering the web address filmcoachella.com (which redirects to the Filmchella website).

Hearing the plaintiffs’ case on Tuesday (10 October), judge Robert G. Klausner sided with Goldenvoice, ruling that while Simms “provided evidence that he relied in good faith on a valid trademark search, conducted by a trademark examiner, that did not return any conflict” – and that Coachella failed to “clearly demonstrate” he had deliberately set out to confuse consumers – the intention is ultimately irrelevant, with “the intent element is merely a proxy for determining likelihood of confusion”.

“Since both Coachella and Filmchella are both designed to be artistic, multi-day festivals in the desert; since Coachella’s marks have become widely known and strong; and since using the suffix ‘chella’ is likely to cause consumers to believe, or at least wonder, if Filmchella is affiliated with or sponsored by Coachella, the Court finds that the Sleekcraft test” – a set of eight guidelines for determining infringement – “falls in plaintiffs’ favour,” said Klausner.

“Given that there is an inherent likelihood of confusion … Filmchella’s success or failure would likely impact Coachella’s reputation as well”

Coachella’s lawyers, he continued, similarly successfully demonstrated “sufficient evidence to show a likelihood of reputational harm. Coachella has a significant reputation to uphold. It has drawn massive crowds and exceptionally popular artists. Filmchella has not. The festivals are different in type, in budget and in ticket price. Coachella tickets are very expensive. Filmchella tickets are very inexpensive.

“Plaintiffs have also raised concerns about whether the event will have adequate security and come forth with evidence suggesting that it may lack appropriate security. Given that there is an inherent likelihood of confusion regarding the extent to which Filmchella is associated with Coachella, Filmchella’s success or failure would be likely to impact Coachella’s reputation as well.

“Finally, Coachella’s loss of control – their inability to control their reputation, and the extreme difficulty of attempting to quantify the monetary value or loss of sales due to such reputational damage – justifies a finding of irreparable injury.”

Concluding that an injunction prohibiting the use of the service/trademark ‘Filmchella’ would not prohibit Simms from hosting a film festival of a different name in future – the inaugural Filmchella, hastily (and incompletely) rebranded to Filmchilla, took place from 29 September to 1 October – Kausner said: “Having weighed the parties’ evidence, the court has found that the ‘Filmchella’ mark may cause consumer confusion. Thus, the court finds that the public interest factor weighs in plaintiffs’ favour.”

Goldenvoice, owned by AEG, is known to be robust in using legal means to defend its copyrights, having sued Hoodchella festival (now called Noise in the Hood), Cannabis grower Lowell Farms (for selling a ‘Coachella blend’) and Urban Outfitters, which allegedly sold clothes marketed under the Coachella name, all in the past 18 months.


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