On Friday, a federal judge in Brooklyn sided with Vans and banned all future sales of Tyga’s “Wavy Baby” sneakers, ruling they likely violated the sneaker company’s trademarks.
Two days after a key hearing, the U.S. District Judge William F. Kuntz issued a temporary restraining order preventing a New York artist collective called MSCHF from continuing to sell the sneaker – a surreal, twisted version of Van’s classic Old Skool sneaker launched in collaboration with Tyga on April 18.
Vans sued MSCHF earlier this month, calling the Wavy Baby a “gross trademark violation.” MSCHF argued that the shoe was a work of art protected by the First Amendment, but Judge Kuntz was unswayed.
“Despite defendant’s assertions that Wavy Baby shoes belong in museums and exhibit galleries, the production of 4,306 pairs of shoes places Wavy Baby shoes on a very different moving base than that found at the Brooklyn Museum,” wrote the judge.
MSCHF had argued that the shoe was a parody, designed to comment on “sneakerhead” culture. But in Friday’s injunction ruling, Judge Kuntz said he — and, more importantly, the consumers — didn’t quite get the joke.
“Whatever the actual artistic merits of the Wavy Baby shoes, the shoes do not meet the requirements of a successful parody,” Judge Kuntz wrote. “Although the manifesto accompanying the shoes may contain protected parody expression, Wavy Baby’s shoes and packaging fail to convey the satirical message.”
The injunction was relatively severe. Since MSCHF argued that nearly all of the Wavy Babys had already been sold and shipped, Judge Kuntz ordered the company to place all funds earned from the brand in escrow so they could potentially be returned to no one. any customer. He also ordered MSCHF to rescind or cancel any orders he could.
In a statement to Billboard, MSCHF attorney Megan K. Bannigan vowed the company would continue to fight, saying the ruling omits key legal precedents entirely. “The court’s decision does not recognize MSCHF’s First Amendment rights to artistic expression, regardless of the medium or particular form of that expression,” Bannigan said. “MSCHF will continue to litigate this case, including through all available remedies, to ensure its freedom and that of all artists to make their art.”
Tyga announced the Wavy Baby in an April 6 Instagram post, garnering a lot of buzz but also immediate comparisons to the Vans. Shoe News said the shoe “seems to be loosely based on the classic Vans Old Skool” which has been modified with a “wave aesthetic.” The website HighSnobiety got bolder: “MSCHF & Tyga’s Insane Skate Shoes Look Like Liquified Vans.”
Three days before the shoes were to drop on April 18, Vans filed a lawsuit – claiming MSCHF’s sneakers violated its trademark rights and demanding an immediate restraining order. Citing its own efforts to collaborate with artists and riff on its own designs, Vans argued that consumers would think Wavy Baby was an authorized product, not a parody of a separate company.
MSCHF fired back with some interesting arguments. He admitted the Wavy Baby was based on the Old Skool, but said he had the legal right to use the shoe as “the cultural and physical anchor when creating his art.” The company said it wanted to critique “the consumerism inherent in sneakerhead culture” and “the phenomenon of sneaker companies collaborating with anyone to gain influence and shoe sales.”
He also pointed out that there was no need for a temporary restraining order since the approximately 4,000 pairs of Wavy Baby had already been sold and the company had no plans to sell more. in the immediate future.
These arguments clearly did not convince Judge Kuntz. Despite MSCHF’s changes, he said the two shoes had “striking visual similarities” and that “several independent sources” had been confused about whether Vans was involved in the project. He also didn’t buy into the company’s promises about future plans.
“Defendant has made no representation that it will not continue to produce iterations of the Wavy Baby shoes after the conclusion of this litigation for one reason: it specifically intends to do so,” Judge Kuntz wrote.
The decision not only prohibits MSCHF from selling more Wavy Baby, but also strongly signals that the company will lose the case when it is fully committed, potentially exposing it to damages. This could lead to a quick settlement – a common outcome in trademark cases after such early decisions. For example, after losing a similar decision to Nike last year regarding Lil Nas X’s “Satan Shoe,” MSCFH quickly reached an agreement to end the dispute. If the case doesn’t settle, the case will move on to discovery and an eventual jury trial.