About a year ago, in January 2019 Rihanna Robin Fenty (“Rihanna”) sued her father Ronald Fenty and his business partner Moses Joktan Perkins in California District Court. At issue was the fact that Ronald Fenty and his partner had created a company called Fenty Entertainment which Rihanna claimed in her lawsuit “egregiously and fraudulently misrepresented to third parties and the public that their company, Fenty Entertainment, LLC, is affiliated with Rihanna, and has the authority to act on her behalf.”
In her complaint, Rihanna stated that her action was for unfair competition, false designation of origin, false advertising, Lanham Act Violations, Invasion of Privacy, and False Light Publicity. The documents also accused her Father and his business partner of “Fraud” with respect to multi million dollar concerts which were booked in her name. Her father also tried to get a trademark for a line of boutique hotels called “Fenty.”
This case is intriguing as well as sad. From the father’s perspective, it is clear what his reasoning is in this case. Fenty is his name. He gave this name to Rihanna. Rihanna is only Fenty because he is Fenty. So, he can use his own name to conduct business and not Rihanna, the Court or anybody should be able to stop him. He sees it as totally insane, that Rihanna can use the name Fenty which he gave her and which is his name, but that he cannot likewise use the name. He clearly is not thinking about this in a legal way, only in an emotional way.
It is more than just that, however, because the notion that he went ahead and created Fenty Entertainment and then tried to book concerts in his daughter’s name without her consent, and it appears that big monies were involved (some publications say his company received $15 million for these concerts although these are not allegations that I can prove at this time) is just crazy. Well, more than crazy. If he did that, and she did not consent and he accepted money for this, it could be fraud. It could even be criminal fraud. Which is just crazy. What was this man thinking? The only conclusion I can draw from this is that perhaps the public does not have the whole story. Perhaps as the case unfolds the public will learn exactly why this man thought he was authorized to book $15 million dollar concerts for Rihanna without first getting the go ahead from Rihanna.
On Rihanna’s side, obviously, she owns the Fenty trademark. That is the beauty of trademark ownership is that you can stop people from using your trademark even if they are your family and even if they are the one who originated this name – such as the case here. The question though, is, what does her trademark cover? Because it is not intuitively apparent that the fact that she has trademark for Fenty for fashion and makeup means that no one else in the world (including her father whose name is also Fenty) can use the name Fenty in a business sense. So, it will depend on how broad this trademark protection is that Rihanna filed. The trademark office did stop her father from trademarking the name for hotels. Which is interesting from a legal standpoint because arguably (and I am just playing devil’s advocate because I love Rihanna and I am trying to say anything to offend the girl) hotels are very far removed from makeup and fashion. Right? So, on what basis did the trademark office say that Ronald Fenty could not trademark “Fenty” for hotels? Rihanna’s trademarks must be very expansive and very broad for them to have said that.
With that all being said about the hotels, clearly what the father tried to do with Fenty Entertainment – assuming the reports are accurate that he tried to fraudulently implicate Rihanna in these deals – is outrageous both legally and in terms of the family aspect. How could someone do that? Clearly, that is just wrong.
But. It is wrong insofar as the fraud of suggesting that Rihanna was in on this company. But from a legal perspective, a trademark law perspective, can this man form a company with this name: Fenty Entertainment? After all, this is this man’s name. Why can’t he use his own name for anything at all just because his daughter, Rihanna (we love her) trademarked the name as her fashion and make-up brand? Just how broad is Rihanna’s trademark? When I reviewed the complaint, I have to say that from a legal perspective, I am not sure that I agree with trademark office that her dad could not use the name in hotels. Because take a look at what the complaint says about her trademarks of the Fenty name at Paragraphs 18 and 19:
18. Roraj is the exclusive owner of the active and valid registered United States trademarks FENTY BEAUTY (Registration Nos. 5,586,904, 5,586,905), FENTY BEAUTY by RIHANNA (Registration Nos. 5,397,059 and 5,408,127), FENTY 88 (Registration No. 5,483,535), and FENTY GLOW (Registration No. 5,414,058). Roraj also filed applications to register the marks FENTY, LAVENDER BY FENTY, FENTY BY RIHANNA, FEN BY FENTY, and HOUSE OF FENTY, which are pending. 19. Roraj also owns trademarks and protects the FENTY Mark worldwide, and presently owns valid and subsisting trademark registrations in over 51 foreign trademark jurisdictions for FENTY BEAUTY, FENTY 88, FENTY GLOW, FENTY BEAUTY BY RIHANNA, LAVENDER BY FENTY, FENTY, FENTY BY RIHANNA, FEN BY FENTY, HOUSE OF FENTY, FENTY SKIN, FENTY FRAGRANCE, FENTYCORP and FENTY.
So these trademarks are pretty specific and narrow and all seem to go to her fashion and her beauty business. But that is another issue. The issue here is the Fenty Entertainment. Yes, if he did what they say he did as far as booking concerts in his daughter’s name (and god forbid if he accepted money!) this is clear fraud. Yes, “Fenty Entertainment” (especially because it IS her father and family member) could be misleading for the public who would naturally think there is some kind of affiliation, ownership and/or association with Rihanna. But what about Ronald Fenty Entertainment Corp? Would she have objected if he had put his first name in front of Fenty? Would the court be justified in telling him he cannot use the Fenty name in ANY way shape or form for anything at all? I am not sure if I would agree with that. DO I think he is trying to capitalize on Rihanna’s success? Yes. I do. But I also think that everybody who is successful has capitalized on somebody else. No success occurs in a vacuum. No one is successful just on their own. We all need others to become successful even if we do most of the heavy lifting.
With that said, what is the grand conclusion? That’s a damn good question. It’s just sad when things like this happen in families. The case is still pending as of this writing. The last action on the case occurred in July 2019. We will just have to wait and see what the court decides.