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In The King's Name

Although Elvis Presley died in 1977, his name and likeness have been trademarked by Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE). EPE earns millions of dollars each year through a licensing program that grants licensees the right to manufacture and sell Elvis Presley merchandise worldwide. EPE also operates two restaurants and an ice cream parlor at Graceland, the Elvis Presley home in Memphis, Tennessee, which Presley fans consider to be a shrine to the king of rock and roll.

In 1995 EPE filed suit in federal court, alleging that a Houston, Texas, nightclub operating under the name "The Velvet Elvis" infringed on EPE's trademarks (Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. v. Capece, 950 F. Supp. 783 [S.D. Texas 1996]). The name of the nightclub comes from a black velvet painting of Presley that hangs in the back lounge of the bar. Newspaper advertisements for the club depicted images and likenesses of Presley and made explicit references to the singer, including "The King Lives," "Viva la Elvis," and "Elvis has notleft the building."

The court ruled that the name "The Velvet Elvis" did not create the likelihood of confusion as to the "Elvis" trademarks held by EPE. The court agreed with the club owner that the bar was meant to PARODY 1960s popular culture. Replete with lava lamps, beaded curtains, vinyl furniture, and black velvet nude paintings, the bar was a humorous jab at the culture that created the Presley myth. Even if EPE operated its own "Elvis" nightclub, the Houston bar would not create confusion as to the EPE trademarks. The court noted that the typical customers of The Velvet Elvis were young professionals ranging in age from their early twenties to their late thirties. The majority of Presley fans were middle-aged white women.

The court also ruled, however, that the use of Presley's name and likeness in advertisements infringed on the EPE trademarks. The advertisements did not indicate that the nightclub was a parody of 1960s popular culture, and therefore they created the likelihood of confusion as to the sponsorship of the nightclub.

The court ordered the owner of The Velvet Elvis not to display in his advertisements the image of Elvis or make direct references to his identity as a celebrity or to emphasize the word Elvisin the name The Velvet Elvis. Apart from this remedy, the court dismissed all other relief sought by EPE. The nightclub could continue, in the words found on its menu, as "The King of Dive Bars."

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Tonnage tax to UmpireTrademarks - Origins And Development Of Trademark Law, In The King's Name, Trademark Registration, Trademark Infringement