The studio filed the suit on Monday after receiving demand letters from the San Francisco-based Empire Distribution Inc., in which the label insisted Fox pay $8 million, change the show's title or pay $5 million and include artists represented on Empire Distribution as "regular guest stars" on the show.
Fox is now seeking a legal order to allow their use of the title Empire and has no intentions on paying Empire Distribution off. "Unfortunately, success today can often make creators a target for a myriad of baseless legal claims," Fox's attorney Marvin Putnam said. "They hope you will just pay a little something from that success to make them go away. As underscored by today's complaint, Fox has no intention of allowing anyone to leverage Empire's success for their own unwarranted financial gain."
According to Fox, Empire Distribution never filed a trademark on Empire and their application for trademarking Empire Distribution for non-electronic music recordings last January was denied. There isanother trademark covering electronic delivery of music recordings pending. However, according to the suit, Empire Distribution doesn't even show up in a Google search until seven pages in. "There is even a film called Empire Records," the filing points out.
The show Empire is about the soap opera antics that go on within a family running a hip-hop record label. According to a letter from Empire Distribution's attorney Michael Hobbs Jr., the violence and homophobia depicted on the show could harm the real-world label's business. "It isn't just a fictional show," Empire Distribution CEO Ghazi Shami said. "They are functioning as a record label in the real world."
Empire Distribution remains confident they will win the trademark infringement case. "Empire was started over five years before the first broadcast of the show, the marks are identical, and they sell the same products to the same customers. The significant number of incidents of actual public confusion is disturbing," Hobbs said.
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