ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Parody or piracy? That's the question raised by a lawsuit filed by The North Face Apparel Corp. against a small company started by a teenager that calls itself The South Butt.
The lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in St. Louis seeks unspecified damages and asks the court to prohibit The South Butt from making, marketing and selling its parody product line of fleeces, T-shirts and shorts.
The South Butt was started two years ago by now-18-year-old Jimmy Winkelmann, partly to help pay for college. It puts out products with the tag line "Never Stop Relaxing," a parody of The North Face line, "Never Stop Exploring."
The North Face, a San Leandro, Calif.-based division of VF Corp., first threatened legal action about two months ago. News of the dispute caused sales of The South Butt products to take off, said Albert Watkins, the attorney for The South Butt and Winkelmann.
"The South Butt has previously made it clear to The North Face that the consuming public is insightful enough to know the difference between a face and a butt," Watkins said Monday.
"This is bigger than facing down a bully in the school yard," Watkins said. "This goes to the heart of competition, the concept of an open marketplace, and the freedom of the public to make their own choice."
The North Face declined comment, and calls to its attorneys were not returned. But the lawsuit said The South Butt is parody that crosses the line into trademark infringement.
"They are marketing apparel that directly and unabashedly infringes and dilutes The North Face's famous trademarks and duplicates The North Face's trade dress in its iconic Denali jacket," the lawsuit said.
"While defendants may try to legitimize their piracy under the banner of parody, their own conduct belies that claim," the suit said, noting that The South Butt has twice attempted to obtain a U.S. trademark registration.
The lawsuit claimed that Winkelmann offered to sell The South Butt to The North Face for $1 million, then rescinded the offer after sales took off.
In addition to Winkelmann and The South Butt, the lawsuit names Williams Pharmacy Inc., which handles marketing and manufacturing details for The South Butt.
Winkelmann is now a freshman at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Watkins said he is taking the lawsuit in stride -- and studying for finals.
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