Does Rupert Murdoch's Fox Empire Include a Hip Hop Division?

Terrence Howard as Lucious Lyon

"I didn't think Terrence wanted to do TV," Empire co-creator Lee Daniels said about his leading man. Although Howard had been a part of the Law & Order: LA cast in 2010, he had mostly been focusing on films since, including Daniels' The Butler, as well as The Best Man Holiday and St. Vincent. But Howard was really just looking for interesting roles and had taken a short arc on M. Night Shyamalan and Chad Hodge's Fox limited series Wayward Pines (due in May) when often co-star Taraji P. Henson told Daniels Howard had to be the Lucious to her Cookie.

In March, 20th Century Fox filed a preemptive lawsuit against a record label doing business as Empire Distribution, and denied claims that the hit TV series Empire constituted a trademark violation. No surprise that Empire Distribution has now filed counterclaims asserting that the title of the show will cause significant confusion, but legal papers on Thursday also allege "there is nothing 'fictional' about Fox's music distribution operations."

The Rupert Murdoch company is demanding declaratory relief from the infringement claim.

Now, Empire Distribution has filed counterclaims with confirmation it is seeking an injunction so that Fox can't use "Empire" in commerce. Fox's adversary is also seeking profits associated with Empire.

The counter-claimant's legal brief (below) features a lot of pictures, as Empire Distribution is proud of working with hip-hop stars like Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg and Sage the Gemini, and is attempting to tout its success in the market. There's an image of Sage's "Gas Pedal" album being given an RIAA-certified platinum plaque.

Another image shown is a comparison of the show's logo with the label's. Both are in upper case, and according to Empire Distribution, the font treatment is nearly the same. The label's logo also features a skyline, so there's an additional image thrown in of a gold necklace worn by one of the main characters which features a skyline that "has made the confusion between the marks inescapable."

But the best stuff is reserved for an attempt to show how consumers, artists and business partners are having trouble distinguishing between fiction and real-life.

According to Empire Distribution's lawyers, Fox has been promoting music under the "Empire" mark at radio stations, live performances, events, record stores and elsewhere.

"For example, Empire’s franchise artist, Rayven Justice, recently met with internationally renowned DJ Crisco Kidd, at a Dallas radio station to promote his new single," states the counter-complaint. "Fox's 'Empire' artists, Yazz and Jussie, met with Crisco Kidd the very next day, at the very same radio station, to promote their new single."

Fox is allegedly keeping track of radio station airplay with an account at Mediabase.

"Fox’s misuse of the 'Empire' name has confused other artists and their followers," continues Empire Distribution. "For example, Shaggy, a Grammy award winner and one of the best selling reggae musicians of all time, posted Empire’s logo on the internet, and one follower commented '#teamCookie' in reference to one of the lead characters on Fox’s 'Empire' program, Cookie Lyon."

The full brief from attorneys at Troutman Sanders includes other examples of fiction bleeding with non-fiction including screenshots from iTunes, Google and Facebook.

Fox appears to think this lawsuit is a ploy to get attention.

A spokesperson responds, "As our counsel clearly stated when we originally filed our complaint in March, success can often make creators a target for a myriad of baseless legal claims. Fox has no intention of allowing anyone to leverage Empire’s success for their own unwarranted financial gain."