Academy Sues Over Oscars Gift Bag With Vape Pens and Vibrators

A marketing firm is being blamed for tarnishing the goodwill of the Academy Awards by prompting media stories focusing on the "less-than-wholesome nature of some of the products contained in the bags."
 Christopher Polk/Getty Images

See any stories of late about expensive swag that attendees to the upcoming Academy Awards are getting? The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences certainly has — and it's not pleased. The social media hashtag that has prompted a lawsuit this award season is not #OscarsSoWhite. Rather, it's #OscarGiftBag.

On Tuesday, the Academy went to California federal court against Lash Fary, otherwise known as Distinctive Assets, a marketing company that specializes in product promotion through celebrity integration.

The organization that puts on the Oscars says it has no affiliation with gift bags said to contain hundreds of thousands of dollars of merchandise including vape pens and vibrators. But according to its complaint asserting trademark infringement, the defendant is nonetheless confusing consumers with slogans such as "Everyone Wins At The Oscars®! Nominee Gift Bags," and "Everyone Wins Nominee Gift Bags in Honor of the Oscars®."

Quite a few big media outlets including Glamour, The Telegraph and TMZ have fallen for the promotional stunt. For example, here's Vanity Fair's story in 2015 headlined, "Oscars Gift Bag: Take a Peek Inside This Year's $168,000 Bounty."

"Deeply concerned about the confusion Distinctive Assets was spreading, the Academy’s legal counsel wrote Distinctive Assets on or about February 17, 2015, to inform it that it 'is critical that no one be confused into believing that your gift bags are associated with or have any connection with the Academy,' " states the suit (read in full here).

The Academy requested that the company's communications make clear that the Academy does not award, sponsor, endorse or provide these gift bags.

It took another couple of weeks — following more stories, a Facebook post from the defendant with the hashtag #OscarGiftBag and a second legal warning — for Distinctive Assets to reply it "will not purposefully make an association between its gift bags and AMPAS going forward."

Now, it's 2016, and Distinctive Assets is allegedly up to its grab bag of tricks again, only slightly altering its slogan.

"But Distinctive Assets’ new tagline is hardly the only means it is now using to advance the false idea that it is connected to the Academy and the Oscars," adds the lawsuit. "On or about February 5, 2016, Distinctive Assets used the Academy’s OSCARS trademark on its social media Twitter account to describe its gift bag and posted a link to an article [at the Daily Beast] about the bags titled "Inside the Absurd $200K Oscar Gift Bag: Vapes, a Trip to Israel, and a Vampire Breast Lift."

The Academy says no disclaimers were used, and that a wave of articles about Oscar gift bags followed (including by The Hollywood Reporter). "The media coverage reveals that Distinctive Assets appears to be taking no steps to stop wrongfully implying a relationship with the Academy," complains the plaintiff.

The coverage is too much for the Academy Awards.

"Distinctive Assets’ continued use of the Academy’s trademarks not only infringes the Academy’s trademarks, but it is also likely to dilute the distinctiveness of the Academy’s famous trademarks and tarnish their goodwill," states the complaint. "Press about the 2016 gift bags has focused on both the less-than-wholesome nature of some of the products contained in the bags, which purportedly include a $250 marijuana vaporizer, a $1,900 "vampire breast lift," skin treatments by Park Avenue plastic surgeons valued at more than $5,500, a $250 sex toy, and $275 Swiss-made toilet paper, and the unseemliness of giving such high value gifts, including trips costing tens of thousands of dollars, to an elite group of celebrities."

The Academy, represented by attorneys at Quinn Emanuel, is now seeking an injunction and trebled profits and damages. Distinctive Assets couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

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