There's only one Run the Jewels. Killer Mike and El-P's rap group has cemented the name as their own since their breakthrough project three years ago, but they'll soon have competition on the big screen as a Kevin Hart-helmed movie titled "Run the Jewels" is now in production.
The group is, understandably, not pleased:
In an age of retweets, reposts, remixes, and memes, when viral ideas get spread around the world faster than actual viruses, of course, we end up having a lot of conversations about the often blurry lines between inspiration and theft, mere style jacking and outright copying. But in this case, I think Mike and El have a case that could go beyond angry tweets and into the courtroom, if they actually felt so-inclined to set loose some legal savagery.
I'm no lawyer, but I play one on TV cover entertainment law regularly, and the key to a trademark infringement case is whether "the defendant's use causes a likelihood of confusion in the average consumer."
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For example, Snoop Dogg's currently fighting a trademark lawsuit from the Toronto Maple Leafs, who claim the logo for his new weed line is too close to their symbol. Snoop's lawyer has responded that no average consumer who steps into a Colorado weed shop and purchases some "Leafs By Snoop" would think the NHL team is also officially involved in that strain of weed, which seems about right. (Although they'd be so high, who could guess what's going through their mind?)
In this case, say a new video game called Run the Jewels came out featuring a group of exotic birds who attempt to sneak into some ancient Mayan ruins and recover lost gems, no problem there. (Yo, get at me Zynga.) Beyond the name, it's hard to imagine any consumer buying that game because they assumed the rap group Run the Jewels was involved.
But this movie? According to the Hollywood Reporter, the plot, “centers on a group of failed rappers who attempt to rob an eccentric hip-hop mogul.” I don't want to imply that Mike and El-P are "failed rappers," but if I told you that there was a movie called Run the Jewels about some rappers who attempt to rob a hip-hop mogul...eh...I don't know. I feel like the average rap fan, who would also be the target demographic for this movie, could easily think Run the Jewels the group was involved in Run the Jewels the movie. In essence, the movie would be profiting off consumer's association with the Run the Jewels name without paying Run the Jewels a dime.
As always though, the letter of the law and how it's actually practiced can be two very different things. RTJ might have a case, but they might also not want to go through the hassle of fighting the small army of lawyers Universal Studios keeps on deck. So while I'm completely and totally overstepping my bounds here, I'd still like to propose a solution that doesn't feed the lawyers but does feed the culture. Mike and El get a cameo in the movie and get invited to make the movie's theme song. Everyone gets paid, the movie's even doper for embracing the similarity and, best of all, no lawyers get involved.
Now that's a movie I'd pay to see.