If you’re not up on shoe culture, stories about old and new kicks going for occasionally eye-watering prices can boggle the mind. Regardless of how you feel about it, though, there is a lot of money in the buying and selling of collectible shoes, and notably, a lot of that money is made on secondary markets. Given that shoe companies are doing alright as it is, they’re probably ok (for now) getting only a portion of that market as opposed to the whole thing. But someone striking out on their own and using their trademarks? That’s clearly going to be a big no-no.
You may have seen something about the new shoes Lil Nas X released just a few days ago, in part due to their provocative name: “Satan Shoes.” The shoes feature all of the accoutrement one would associate with merchandise affixed with the dark lord’s moniker: a pentagram, the number “666” and for good measure, a drop of human blood. (Perhaps most offensive is the $1,018 price tag.) And while those signifiers may have him afoul of religious communities, one might argue his greatest offense is angering an earthly power: Nike.
The athletic apparel giant is suing Lil Nas X’s collaborators on the shoes, art collective MSCHF, for featuring Nike’s iconic swoosh on the footwear without permission. The shoes themselves are modified versions of Nike Air Max 97s, with the aforementioned iconography added after-market, so to speak. Given that the shoes in question have been everywhere, with the logo clearly evident in every photo accompanying breathless reports, it’s impossible to argue the specifics of the case itself, leaving it down to whether the use constitutes infringement.
Given the prominence of the logo, there is a reasonable case to be made for brand confusion, and in this case, it’s probably not an association that Nike is eager to pursue. It’s likely that Nike or any other shoemaker would have pursued a similar course for such noteworthy potential infringement, but undoubtedly Nike’s lawyers moved with a particular zeal and haste against something called “Satan Shoes” with their logo prominently affixed.
Most corporations are loath to court anything like controversy when it could affect their bottom line — Nike’s most famous spokesman, Michael Jordan, once famously remarked “Republicans buy sneakers, too” — and to the extent they do take it on, undoubtedly they’d prefer it to be of their own choosing. (See their Super Bowl ad from a couple years ago featuring Colin Kaepernick.) In this instance, Lil Nas X and MSCHF committed two sins: infringing upon Nike’s trademark, and dragging them into a public battle over religion. In the business sphere, where money is the one true religion, it’s hard to say which is more egregious.