Meena Alnajar is an IPilogue Writer, IP Innovation Clinic Fellow, and a 2L JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School
Following its worldwide premiere on November 24, 2021, the biographical film House of Gucci may face lawsuits for its depiction of the Gucci family. The film is based on Maurizio Gucci’s life leading up to his murder by a hitman hired by his ex-wife Patricia Reggiani, played by pop star Lady Gaga. The Gucci family’s heirs spoke out on how the film inaccurately represented the family members as “thugs, ignorant, and insensitive.” The family stated that they would “take any action necessary” to protect their name, hinting at forthcoming legal action. Given that the film relies heavily on the Gucci name, there are concerns as to what legal ramifications director Ridley Scott and the production company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer could face.
Who Owns the Name
Since the film discusses both the Gucci family and the Gucci brand, it may be helpful to examine each mark. The Gucci family is attributed to the family members and as such has no technical legal protection. The word ‘Gucci’ however, is also a fashion brand currently owned by the French corporation Kering. Therefore, the family has no legal control or stake in the Gucci name as a brand. Gucci has been trademarking as a fashion brand since the 1980s, garnering over one hundred registered marks. In addition to registrations for the word Gucci, the brand has several design marks such as its renowned interlocking double Gs.
Trademark owners can object to the use of their trademark in media and film and file a trademark infringement suit as a result. For the House of Gucci film, the fashion house cooperated with the filmmakers to let them use the Gucci wardrobe. There was evidenced consent in the matter, so the film is unlikely to face a trademark infringement suit. Further, most brands reject use of their registered marks because they worry people will get confused as to who owns the mark. Since the movie’s purpose is to detail Gucci’s ownership of the brand, there is little possibility that audiences would get confused as to who owns the ‘House of Gucci.’ However, the family may still be able to claim defamation for how their likeness appeared on the screen.
What Actions Could the Real Gucci Family Take?
The Gucci family felt misrepresented in the film, and so they may have grounds for defamation, a civil lawsuit. Though its statutory definition varies between jurisdictions, defamation is generally where one’s reputation has been harmed due to a negative depiction, such as a film that represents them in a negative light. A claimant needs to prove that the negative depiction is about them, that there were remarks that could cause them serious harm, and that these remarks were circulated to a wider audience. In response, a filmmaker must ground the representations in truth as best as they can. There should be some evidence or fact that would support the claimant’s representation in the film. House of Gucci is based on a non-fiction book by fashion reporter Sara Gay Forden, so the filmmakers could possibly rely on the book as evidence to explain the Gucci family’s depiction in the film.
Narrative films often embellish and exaggerate to captivate audiences, but the filmmakers for House of Gucci may face legal consequences for their creative decisions. The real Gucci family may not have grounds to sue for the Gucci mark, but they could move forward with a defamation suit for the many faces behind the double Gs.