Superstar DJ v Magical Mouse: Battle of the brands

"Lawyer up mickey"

International EDM DJ Joel Zimmerman aka Deadmau5, has recently become embroiled in a legal battle and war of words with Disney over his application to register a US trade mark for his “mau5head”; the mouse-ears logo synonymous with his public persona and worn as a helmet in his live performances.

The dispute became public when Deadmau5 found out that Disney had challenged the trade mark application for his mouse-head and duly responded by tweeting “Lawyer up mickey” to his nearly 3 million followers. In this instance, Disney has argued that the mau5head logo is too similar to its long-established Mickey Mouse ears and is therefore likely to cause confusion and damage to its brand.

This is an interesting case. Deadmau5 is not a new DJ on the scene, his famous mau5head has been part of his performance for the past 10 years and he has had considerable success in merchandising the brand. Deadmau5 has established a trade mark for it in 30 countries such as the UK, Japan, Germany and France (the home of Disneyland Paris), so it is surprising that the question of the alleged potential confusion between these two brands has not arisen before.

Whilst you may not be a world famous DJ or an international entertainment powerhouse, there are lessons to be learnt from this dispute by all businesses, big and small, on how to manage and protect your brand.  

Creating your brand

Like both Deadmau5 and Disney, most businesses spend a lot of time and money on creating their brand to help draw in customers and set their business apart from the competition. Establishing a reputable brand can be hard work, and maintaining it can be even harder. Protecting your intellectual property starts the moment you decide to set up a business and should always be a priority.

Find out how to protect your brand with a registered trademark ›   

Mousetrap: Brand value

Once you have established your brand you need to maintain it. A registered trade mark which goes unused runs the risk of being challenged and revoked. One common mistake made by businesses is to underestimate the value of their brand. When a company is sold the brand and intellectual property will often be a huge part of the company’s assets. Think of any big name brand and imagine its power without the name or logo that it is famous for. Whether it is Disney licensing a company to make character dolls so children can take home their very own Elsa, Sleeping Beauty or Buzz Lightyear, Starbucks granting a franchisee a right to open their very own iconic coffee shop, or an internationally renowned DJ, such as Deadmau5, wanting to grant merchandise licences; a well thought-out brand will be a huge source of revenue and that, as well as reputation can often be a key driver in these types of disputes.

Lessons to be learnt

Whilst music and magic collide there are important lessons to be learnt from this dispute which every business should remember:

  • Registering your trade mark will always provide you with a higher level of brand protection
  • It doesn’t matter how well established your brand is, you must always be alert to potential challenges and infringement
  • Don’t focus solely on the industry that you are operating in, potential conflict and threats to your brand reputation can come from all directions
  • Trade mark creation, protection and management are key to any business seeking commercial success.

Protecting and maintaining your brand is an ongoing battle; but if you can follow the above tips and make your intellectual property a priority then you will be putting your brand in a strong position. 

If you require any further information on the protection or exploitation of your brand please contact Catherine Harrison.

Author: Sophie McKibbin

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

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Craig Chaplin

Partner - National Head of Commercial & Competition

I am a Partner and Head of the Commercial & Competition Team.

Catherine Harrison

Senior Associate

I am a Senior Associate at DWF, specialising in working for clients across the retail, food, education, oil and gas and technology sectors.