9th Circuit in Empire State of Mind

Today, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ended Empire record label’s trademark infringement lawsuit against 20th Century Fox Television over the name of the television show “Empire,” on First Amendment grounds.

The record label, Empire Distribution Inc., which reps hip-hop artists like Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg (and is not the fictitious record store) had sued Fox in 2015. Empire claimed, among other things, a likelihood of confusion between the Empire television program (which is about the rap game) and the label, at least when used on musical soundtracks accompanying the show.

Fox argued that the name of the show relates to the setting of the show, New York (the Empire State), and the fact that the show revolves around a music empire.


According to Fox’s attorney, “use of an ordinary word in the English language according to its ordinary meaning in an artistic work of art” is protected by the First Amendment. The district court bought this argument and the 9th circuit affirmed.