If you live anywhere with a sizeable teen population, you have seen the familiar seagull associated with the Hollister brand. The Hollister logo design, which can be seen at any mall near you, is one of the better logos in the teen clothing market. It is simple, versatile and stylish, yet undeniably popular with its audience. This makes it a prime target for copycats looking to reach the same market.
It’s rare that something as mundane as a seagull is the subject of litigation, but that is exactly what is happening right now. Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister’s parent brand, recently filed a suit against Florida novelty clothing company Surf Style claiming that the company unfairly used a seagull image on certain garments that was dangerously close to their seagull logo. The company claims that using the seagull image on cheaper goods dampens their own image and wants monetary damages for the injury to their brand. In addition, they want for Surf Style to destroy all remaining merchandise bearing the seagull image and to agree never to use it again.
If you have seen the price tags on Hollister items lately, you will be quick to recognize that Surf Style’s offering are almost certainly cheaper. Indeed, Surf Style acknowledges that they have used seagull images on their wares (which are generally novelty items such as souvenir tees and shirts bearing humorous statements), but they feel that this is within the boundaries of fair use. The company is associated with beach wear and seagulls are, after all, known to frequent beaches.
Is this trademark infringement or simply two brands using a common beach symbol? The law holds that Surf Style can be held responsible for copyright infringement if their goods are likely to create confusion with the Hollister brand, which is exactly what Abercrombie & Fitch claims is occurring. On the other hand, can a company really “own” the image of a seagull? Surf Style doesn’t think so; their lawyer recently put out a statement that “… Abercrombie is trying to spread its net much larger than the law will allow.” Abercrombie, for their part, stated that they do not comment on current litigation.
We were unable to find any seagull apparel on Surf Style’s website for comparison, so it impossible for us to make a judgment on whether the company is guilty of copyright infringement. However, the success and popularity of Hollister practically guarantees that someone, somewhere is going to try to copy their logo design to some extent, whether they stay on the right side of the law or not.
A logo design is one of a company’s most valuable assets, and infringing on another’s company can cost your business in big ways, both literally and figuratively. Unfortunately, many businesses make the mistake of modifying a copyrighted design for their own use. The only way to ensure that your logo design and your brand are completely and legally yours is to have them developed by a professional, ethical logo designer.