Rapper Jay Z Wrestles With Infringement Action
Is Larry Johnson Next?
Filed Jan. 1, 2006
Wrestler Diamond Dallas Page (left) filed a lawsuit against rap mogul Jay Z and Roc-A-Fella Records on December 2, 2005. The suit claims that Jay Z infringed Page’s trademarked “Diamond Cutter” hand symbol. Jay-Z, whose birth name is Shawn Carter, allegedly hijacked the “Diamond Cutter” hand symbol to promote his Roc-A-Fella Records and clothing dynasty.
Diamond Dallas Page, born Page Falkinburg, filed the lawsuit for Trademark Infringement, False Designation of Origin, Federal Dilution, Unfair Competition, Injury to Business Reputation, Copyright Infringement, and Misappropriation of Trade and Commercial Value, in Los Angeles Federal Court.
It is stated in the Complaint that, “Page, a professional wrestler, created and developed a hand sign which formed the shape of a diamond (the “Diamond Cutter Trademark”) to promote his persona in the entertainment industry.” Further, it is stated that the move, performed by Page, excited the crowds of fans who would then cheer and flash the Diamond Cutter back at Page. Not only did Page’s fans recognize the hand gesture, but the Suit states that other athletes and celebrities “recognized the hand sign as Diamond Dallas Page’s trademark….”
The wrestler, who uses the sign on the cover of his new book "Yoga for Regular Guys," also says he used the symbol on monthly PPV events, WCW live events, and media appearances, including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Page goes on to assert that as his success as a wrestler grew, so did sales of his merchandise, including t-shirts, hats, stationary, posters and action figures, which featured the Diamond Cutter Trademark.
According to the lawsuit, Jay Z repeatedly performs a hand gesture that resembles Page’s insignia in his music video “Encore.” The hand sign is also featured in “Diamonds,” Kanye West's music video. Both West and Jay Z (right) record on the Rock-A-Fella label.
The lawsuit alleges that Jay Z and Roc-A-Fella have been using Page's diamond sign "on sound recordings, videos and in photographs." Page wants a judge to enjoin Jay Z and Rock-A-Fella from using the sign.
"Diamond Dallas Page has been experiencing a lot of confusion, and some people have suggested that he actually borrowed it from Jay Z," George Gallegos, Page’s lawyer, said. "We hope to fix that."
"If you look at [Jay Z's] 'Encore' video you can see fans using the 'Diamond Cutter' sign, and in video of Diamond Dallas ... if you only looked at the fans from both those tapes, you'd think it's the same person performing," Gallegos said. "Jay-Z and Roc-A-Fella Records use this symbol to promote themselves, to promote their artists, to promote their music and to promote their fan base. People have come to recognize [Page by this symbol], and the way that it's being used by Jay-Z and Roc-A-Fella is taking value away from it and creating confusion upon the public."
The infringement claim also states that, “[m]any athletes and celebrities also flashed the Diamond Cutter sports celebration move. “In Game 6 of the 1998 NBA finals against the Chicago Bulls, Karl Malone, the Utah Jazz star basketball player, flashed the Diamond Cutter Trademark during the game and referred to the symbol as Plaintiff’s hand sign. Similarly, former professional football player and Dallas Cowboy star running back, Herschel Walker used the Diamond Cutter Trademark after a 64 yard touchdown run and also acknowledged that it was Plaintiff’s signature trademark.”
Could Chief’s Running Back, Larry Johnson, Also Be Named in the Suit?
Malone and Walker are not the only athletes to have performed the move. Larry Johnson, the star running back for the Kansas City Chiefs, also performs the sports celebration move after each touchdown he scores.
The website KansasCity.com states that, “The ‘Diamond Cutter,’ or ‘Flashing the Roc’ as it also is called, has become the symbolic gesture for anyone associated with the clothing line Team Roc, which has an endorsement deal with Johnson.”
However, even assuming Johnson has been granted permission from Roc-A-Fella to use the symbol to promote the clothing label, if it is found that the label is infringing on Page’s rights, Johnson, as the label’s agent, may be as well. Further, if Page decides to sue Johnson (right) too, it could be found that enough people have associated the move with Johnson alone, and therefore he is infringing on Page’s trademark not as an agent of Roc-A-Fella, but as a competing celebrity in the entertainment industry.
Though fans have become quite familiar with Johnson’s bullish running style that has resulted in a career high 1,750 yards and 17 touchdowns in just 9 starts this season, many fans are confused as to why Johnson performs his sports celebration move and do not associate his move with Jay Z or Roc-A-Fella.
Other Implications of this Suit
A ruling on the issue of copyright infringement of Page’s sports celebration move, the Diamond Cutter, could reveal whether sports celebration moves are indeed copyrightable, a question Henry Abromson, a Baltimore, MD attorney, has sought to answer. While it is doubtful that a Court would find that such a simple move like the Diamond Cutter meets the requirements set forth to qualify for copyright protection, if it nevertheless receives that protection, the ruling would finally answer the question, how simple can a choreography be to receive copyright protection.
Regardless of the outcome of the copyright claim in this case, the claim serves as more evidence that the idea of sports celebration moves holding great value in the marketplace as branding tools for athletes is becoming commonly accepted in the entertainment industry.