Jack Daniel’s wants you to know that its shit doesn’t stink. Because it doesn’t poop. Sort of. NPR reports that the whiskey distiller made its case to the Supreme Court on Wednesday that a poop-themed dog toy resembling a bottle of Jack was an issue of trademark infringement.
The dog toy is made to look like a square Jack Daniel’s whiskey bottle, and its label says “Bad Spaniels” instead of “Jack Daniel’s.” Where a normal Jack Daniel’s label notes that it’s “40% alcohol by volume,” Bad Spaniels reads “43% poo” and “100% smelly.” Jack Daniel’s took issue with the toy because it’s potentially equating itself with the whiskey brand in the eyes of the consumer.
VIP Products, the company that makes the dog toy, retorted that a reasonable person would not mix up the two, and that it’s just a joke. The brand also manufactures dog toys spoofing beer, wine, and soda, with products like Dos Perros (instead of Dos Equis), Kennel-Relax’n (instead of Kendall-Jackson), and 7Pup (goes without saying).
Lisa Blatt, lawyer for Jack Daniel’s, argued before the Court that trademark limitations inherently put parameters around free speech.
“A property right by definition in the intellectual property area is one that restricts speech,” Blatt said. “You have a limited monopoly on a right to use a name that’s associated with your good or service.”
The dog toy is, of course, directly influenced by Jack Daniel’s. Stephen Sacra, VIP’s owner, says he came up with “Bad Spaniels” toy for the company’s Silly Squeakers line while staring at a Jack Daniel’s bottle at a bar. He claims to have called his graphic designer and said, “I got two words for you… bad spaniels.” Within two days, VIP had a draft of a design.
That’s right. The idea came together in 48 hours, and you can tell. It’s shaped like a whiskey bottle, so at first glance, it seems like an alcohol-related toy for your dog, sort of like Bowser Beer. But the “43% poop” is confusing. Is it a bottle of poop? Is the spaniel bad because it put poop in a bottle? Is it whiskey and also poop? Why do you want your dog to be chewing on poop? Is this meant as a gag gift, or something that you buy for your own dog, as if to say, “I have a problem with alcohol and I need to tell someone, but I’m not ready yet”?
Even Justice Elena Kagan agrees: “I don’t see the parody, but, you know, whatever,” she said during the argument.
Which is why it’s silly that Jack Daniel’s is going through this much effort to squash the toy. It’s not a good idea. No one will genuinely think Bad Spaniels is related to the whiskey, will they? Some people who think it’s funny will buy it, and they’ll be like, “Wow, this is funny, and I am having fun.” There is no need to stop people from having fun, especially if it’s not hurting anyone.
It’s still unclear what the Supreme Court’s decision will be. That being said, if this case is what delays the Supreme Court from arguing some other case poised to strip people of their rights, then I hope they take their time on it.