Goldenvoice, an owner of the Californian music festival Coachella, put forward a trademark infringement lawsuit against Afrochella, a Ghana-based music festival. The lawsuit claims that Afrochella is “intentionally trading on the goodwill of [Coachella and Goldenvoice’s] well-known COACHELLA and CHELLA festivals and trademarks by actively promoting music events in the United States and in Ghana using the confusingly similar mark ‘AFROCHELLA’ and by fraudulently attempting to register Plaintiffs’ actual trademarks as their own.”
Afrochella launched in 2017 to celebrate Africa’s diverse culture and the vibrant work of African creatives and entrepreneurs. Goldenvoice claims that “the use of Afrochella as the name of a music and arts festival is highly likely to create a likelihood of confusion and mistake as to the affiliation, connection, or association of you with AEG and with Coachella.” One major reason that prompted the lawsuit was the fact that the organizers of Afrochella were not only seeking to register their own brand with the trademark registry in Ghana but the Coachella and Chella brands too.
Every trademark owner is responsible for enforcing its trademark in the marketplace because the more brands co-exist with similar names, the weaker the scope of the original trademark owner’s protection. Cultural events, music festivals and the arts have a particularly important duty to protect intellectual property. As Coachella continues to grow, recent disputes highlight the difficulties and limits of trademark protection.
The rise of Coachella
Every year, Coachella’s attendance continues to grow. Estimates vary, but it is thought that around 90,000 people attend the festival each day, with around a quarter of those being campers. This means that over the course of the two-weekend event, around 1.5 million people will have attended Coachella. This makes it one of the most attended music festivals in the world, second only to the Glastonbury Festival in the UK, which attracts around 175,000 people each day. As one of the headlining events in pop culture today, the popularity of Coachella will continue to gain even more prominence.
As one of the biggest and most popular music festivals in the world, Coachella generates a lot of revenue for the city of Indio, California, where it is held. In 2015, the festival brought in $94.2 million in revenue for the city, which was a record at the time. It was then surpassed in 2017 when over 500,000 people attended the Coachella festival, which generated $114 million in revenue.
The music festivals of today have become more than just an “event for music”. Just like any product marketing, there are a lot of components involved for them to achieve cult status and be where they are today. This is especially true for massive events like Coachella, which has become an incredibly profitable one for music fans and celebrities alike.
Despite that, Coachella’s branding centered around themes of freedom and diversity seems to be somewhat at odds with Goldenvoice’s efforts to extensively police unauthorized use of the Coachella trademarks.
In 2016, Goldenvoice sued Urban Outfitters and its brand Free People, alleging that it sold clothes specifically marketed to would-be festival attendees, including a “Bella Coachella” line of dresses and a “Coachella Valley Tunic.” Later in 2017, the organization behind the popular desert-based Music and Arts Festival filed another trademark infringement lawsuit against the organizers of “Filmchella”, arguing that the name is confusingly similar to “Coachella”. The claim was further supported by the fact that, Filmchella, like Coachella, is an event held in Southern California and features a variety of entertainment and musical acts. Similarly, in 2021 Goldvoice brought a claim against Live Nation Entertainment regarding their event called Coachella Day One 22. The long-running festival and Goldenvoice took issue with Live Nation selling tickets to Day One, thereby infringing upon Coachella’s trademarks.
It is not yet clear what effect the most recent lawsuit will have on the upcoming festival. Afrochella 2022 is scheduled to take place on December 28 and 29 at El Wak Stadium in Accra, Ghana. Artists on the bill include headliners Burna Boy and Stonebwoy, as well as Ayra Starr, Fireboy DML, Black Sherif, and more.
Every brand deserves to be protected
What Coachella is doing here is not only typical, but it is their legal duty if they would like to retain the rights to their trademarks. This serves as a reminder that music festivals are also owners of intellectual property rights and hold equal legal means to enforce these rights. Brands that wish to create an event that incorporates elements of an existing festival or event should consider any potential trademark and false association claims that could lead to a basis for a prolonged legal dispute.