JLM Couture v Hailey Paige Gutman:

Second Circuit decision involving an intellectual property dispute between a high-profile influencer and her business partner.

Hayley Paige is a bridal gown designer.  She sold her business several years ago to JLM and in so doing assigned rights in her name –  she allowed the business to register her name as a trademark (meaning that the transaction was more than a mere license).

The relationship went sour and Paige resigned. The parties are now fighting over control and ownership of certain social media accounts created during the pendency of Ms. Paige’s relationship with JLM. From the decision:

“These Disputed Accounts, especially the Instagram account, are valuable assets. As of January 2022, the Instagram account had over a million followers (@misshayleypaige).  Control over the account comes with direct access to those followers and opportunities to monetize it. By one expert’s appraisal, a single post on the account, on average, is worth nearly $30,000.”

In this instance, the contracts between the parties seemed pretty clear that Ms. Paige, once she resigned, would not be able to use her name in connection with promoting goods and services for the duration of the contracts – and Ms. Paige may not use the social media accounts to do so.  However the court seemed to struggle with how it would ultimately decide ownership of the accounts in question, and reversed an order that Ms. Paige hand over control of the accounts to JLM for the duration of the dispute. She can now, in theory, use the disputed accounts for personal purposes

This case presents the (not original) questions that arise when an individual ‘sells their name’ to a business. A while back the designer Joseph Abboud was sued when he started a business under his name when he had sold his original line (he wound up calling his new business JA Apparel).  However, here, the court signaled this new sort of asset – the social media account – raises new questions when the account is in a sense shared between an individual and a business.

This case suggests that when an influencer enters into a contractual relationship with a partner, an employer, or even with their own business, there needs to be very precise drafting as to who owns what, and who will own what if the relationship fails – and who will retain trademark rights at that time.

Text of JLM v Hailey Paige Gutman: jlm v hailey paige 2d circuit