In the last couple of days there’s been some media coverage in Ireland of a case involving a small Irish business and Lady Gaga.
Some people are crying foul and accusing Lady Gaga and her lawyers of being heavy-handed and that their actions were tantamount to bullying.
While the Irish Independent’s coverage of the story is comprehensive I wanted to dig a little deeper as it piqued my interest.
So what exactly happened?
Towards the end of 2011 Nikki Walsh established a cookery business under the name “Lady Aga”.
The name was chosen as she uses an Aga stove for her cooking and likes the brand a lot:
Explaining why she originally chose the Lady Aga name, she says: “I am a cookery teacher and cook from an Aga. I had built up a great reputation with people as Lady Aga, and people know me as that.
She registered the business name with the Irish companies’ office and was granted the “registered business name” in January 2012 (registration number 458226) . Around the same time she also registered the domain name ladyaga.ie
She obviously felt that her business was going to grow and the brand name was worth protecting, so in October 2012 she applied for a trademark with the Irish patents office. After a minor amendment they granted the trademark provisionally and published it for challenge in January of this year.
Within a few weeks Lady Gaga’s holding company, Ate My Heart Inc., was in touch with Ms Walsh demanding that she rescind all claims on the name, brand and trademark and transfer everything to them.
The domain name ladyaga.ie is now registered in the name of Ate My Heart Inc., though it currently shows a holding page inviting people to go to the business’ new domain ladyeve.ie:
Ms Walsh felt obliged to rebrand as “Lady Eve” and has since registered the limited company Lady Eve Ltd, as of March this year. She’s also applied for a new trademark as “Lady Eve”, though, quite bizarrely, the trademark is registered to her and not to the company she formed.
I’ve no idea whether the new business is doing well or not, but it’s obviously got some publicity out of this story, even though it only made it into the Irish newspapers 6 months after it all happened!
So were Lady Gaga’s lawyers heavy-handed?
I haven’t seen the letter, but I’ve seen plenty of other ones from other companies and I’ve also sent several in the past.
As a trademark holder you have to protect your brand. Sending a “scary” letter is a fairly cost-effective way of doing that. In the case of Lady Gaga she’s been the target of malicious attempts at cashing in on her name in the past.
This could have played out in a number of other ways.
Lady Gaga’s legal team could have lodged an objection to the trademark application on the basis of potential conflict with their existing marks.
It’s quite unlikely that anyone would confuse a cookery school with a pop star, but they might have been able to convince a court that the names were far too close.
In the case of the domain name ladyaga.ie it’s hard to say. A lot would depend on how strong a defence the original registrant was able to put up. Was the name chosen solely to “cash in” on potential confusion? From what we know it doesn’t seem likely, as Ms Walsh does have a legitimate business relationship with “Aga”, so her usage of the term “Aga” would appear to be genuine.
However the problem with any of these scenarios is cost.
As is often the case the recipient of a “nastygram” from a big law firm is a small business owner. If you’re a small business just starting out you cannot afford to get embroiled in legal battles. They get very expensive very quickly.
It doesn’t matter if Ms Walsh was “right” or “wrong”, the costs for defending herself would have been excessive and it was probably simpler to give in to the demands and, once the dust has settled, garner a bit of PR from the story.
If you go to her site now you’ll see that the media coverage has been given pride of place on the home page:
Personally I’ve got quite mixed feelings about this story. While I can sympathise with Ms Walsh’s plight, I can also see why Lady Gaga’s legal team acted in the manner which they did.
As for the threats – without seeing the letter I can only imagine what they were, but they’re the normal fare you get in a cease and desist letter.