As Coachella has grown into the festival behemoth it is today, the word itself has come to symbolize a certain sun-bleached style — floppy hats, flower-print dresses, copious denim. And if any brand best represents that style, it’s probably Urban Outfitters.
But that doesn’t mean Urban Outfitters can use the trademarked “Coachella” name to brand its clothes — though that’s exactly what Goldenvoice, the company behind the Coachella festival, is accusing it of doing.
In a lawsuit filed March 14 in the U.S. Central District Court of California, Coachella and Goldenvoice allege that Urban Outfitters — and, namely, its “mature, contemporary” subsidiary, Free People — is infringing on Coachella's trademark and violating trademark law by selling items branded with the Coachella name.
The lawsuit claims Free People is selling at least four items that use the name "Coachella," and by way of example cites a web page on FreePeople.com that lists a “Coachella Valley Tunic.” A description of the item on the page calls it "the quintessential summer musical festival piece to throw on and go with.” (As of Wednesday evening, that webpage is still up.)
The suit also mentions the company’s “Bella Coachella” line, which is sold at various third-party outlets including Amazon, Zappos and Macy’s, and includes bras, crop tops and seamless dresses.
The lawsuit goes on to accuse Urban Outfitters of misleadingly using the word “Coachella” in its website metatags to return festival-oriented product results. A search for “Coachella” on the Free People website turns up several items, including a “classic frayed bandana” and a festival survival kit. Coachella also says Urban Outfitters has purchased keyword advertisements from Google using the word “Coachella" that lead Google search results to a number of its products.
According to the lawsuit, Urban Outfitters ignored previous demands from Coachella to discontinue using the name, including a cease-and-desist letter Coachella says it sent to Urban Outfitters on April 16, 2016. (Neither Urban Outfitters nor Coachella responded to requests for comment.)
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Coachella already has a licensing deal set up with department store H&M, and the company notes in the suit that it is "extremely selective" with its licensing agreements, and that "sponsorships and licenses are very limited."
Coachella's lawsuit demands that the court prevent Urban Outfitters from continuing to use the Coachella trademark in its products, and to award damages to Coachella that include all profits Urban Outfitters has made from those products.
It’s all a bit ironic, given that Urban Outfitters is basically Coachella in a big, white box. (The suit describes Urban Outfitters' look as drawing largely "from bohemian, hipster, ironically humorous, kitschy, retro and vintage styles," which is pretty spot-on.) But Coachella isn’t one to let other companies get away with using its trademarks. Just last year, the company filed a lawsuit against the small, L.A.-based Hoodchella festival, forcing the fest to change its name to Noise in the Hood.
The company also sued the L.A. marketing firm Particle LLC last year for scalping wristbands. Meanwhile, the festival was itself sued last year for requiring ticket buyers to forfeit all previous payments on layaway tickets if they were more than 10 days behind on payments, a lawsuit that was later settled out of court.