Generally speaking, if you purchase an item you have the right to resell it. This is an actual intellectual property law called the first sale doctrine. Here is how it is defined:
“The first sale doctrine, codified at 17 U.S.C. § 109, provides that an individual who knowingly purchases a copy of a copyrighted work from the copyright holder, receives the right to sell, display or otherwise dispose of that particular copy, notwithstanding the interests of the copyright owner.”
So then, why has Chanel filed a lawsuit against Vintage to Vogue Designs, LLC for reselling what appear to be actual Chanel buttons with the Chanel logo emblazoned on them?
First Sale Doctrine Vs. Material Differences
Let us get something straight first. Nowhere in Chanel’s filing does the company accuse Vintage to Vogue of selling counterfeit merchandise. Because of this, it appears they are acknowledging the buttons are genuine Chanel products.
This would seem to create a pretty straight line for Vintage to Vogue to put forth a first sale doctrine defense, arguing they have the right to resell the buttons because they were previously purchased. Essentially, they are not Chanel property anymore because someone already paid Chanel for them. And once someone owns a piece of property, they can do what they want with it.
However, the argument that Chanel makes here is that there are “material differences” to the products that Vintage to Vogue is selling as if they were Chanel products. What exactly are material differences?
It is a fairly complicated idea. Specifically, Chanel is arguing that the allegedly infringing jewelry is different from authentic Chanel products, that the way Vintage to Vogue is selling or marketing the products differs from Chanel, and that because of this Chanel is suffering damages related to consumer confusion and unauthorized sales.
Bottom Line: Chanel Is Protecting Its Status as a Seller of Luxury Products
Why do these fashion companies believe that these fights are worth having? Because it is about protecting their image as a brand that creates luxury products. They have worked hard not only to craft an image of luxury, but to put clear protocols in place in regards to how their products are created, marketed, displayed, and sold.
When someone else swoops in and sells something that appears to be a Chanel product without these same protocols in place, the argument is that it tarnishes the brand.
Will Chanel Win Its Case?
Well, as we always say here, time will tell. However, it would appear that the facts of the case are in Chanel’s favor – at least at this point. Besides this, “winning” in court is not always the point. In the previous case mentioned above, Chanel eventually reached a settlement. The same thing may occur here. All they really care about is protecting their brand image and avoiding dilution. However they can do that, they will.