Taylor Swift Forced to Give Deposition About Her Brand

In a trademark dispute, a judge rejects arguments Swift is being harassed needlessly.
Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

A California federal judge ruled Wednesday that Taylor Swift must submit to a deposition that's expected to cover her brand image and knowledge of trademarks.

The pop star demanded a protective order to prevent being forced to answer questions in an ongoing lawsuit over whether she infringed the “Lucky 13” marks of Orange County-based clothing company Blue Sphere Inc. Swift claimed being harassed by the plaintiff and having no relevant knowledge about the allegation she sold “Lucky 13” apparel and, in partnership with a greeting card company, conducted a "Lucky 13" sweepstakes.

U.S. District Court Judge Douglas McCormick finds that the "extraordinary circumstances that would warrant a protective order prohibiting the deposition of a named party are not present here."

Swift has gathered tremendous attention for the way she has filed registrations on such marks as "this sick beat" and other lines from her 1989 album.

Attorneys for Blue Sphere wish to question Swift about her use and understanding of trademark rights as well as some of her sponsorships. For instance, the plaintiff has been investigating whether she and Elizabeth Arden once considered coming out with a "Lucky 13" perfume, and whether any trademark searches were conducted in connection with this.

But the questions will go further as Blue Sphere is also examining the personal exercise of control over her brand, and largely because trademarks serve to prevent confusion, her understanding of marketing channels and customer demographics.

In a footnote denying a protective order, the judge credits Blue Sphere's argument that Swift's image is relevant to the latter inquiry.

McCormick also refuses to order constraints on the scope of deposition and says that evidence shows that Blue Sphere has attempted to be accommodating to her 1989 tour schedule.

As noted in our prior article, the deposition could venture into unexpected territory.

One of the odder discovery requests in this dispute by Blue Sphere was a demand for all photographs and videos of Swift in which her buttocks or breasts were at least partially visible. Swift's side recently cited this as evidence of harassment.

In response, Blue Sphere's lawyer said the request for these "salacious" documents were tied to questions from a Swift lawyer. During a deposition of a Blue Sphere executive, a Swift lawyer asked, "Have you ever seen a photograph of Taylor Swift in any remotely similar look to what we see on this page?" When the executive said yes, the lawyer asked, "You've seen her showing her breasts?"

It's now Swift's turn to give testimony under oath. Her side believes that the plaintiff is bullying her in an effort to extract a settlement, but she's been unsuccessful in getting the judge to apply the “apex” witness doctrine, which protects high-level corporate executives from harassing depositions. Swift is certainly not the only celebrity forced to give a deposition. For example, Reese Witherspoon couldn't avoid one two months ago in an ongoing lawsuit over the sale of jewelry that used her name and image.

Blue Sphere and Swift have seven days to reach an agreement about a location, date and time for the deposition. The results could be shown at trial, which is currently scheduled for November, though it may be pushed back to January.

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