Livestrong has a number of products that it has trademarked and copyrighted, including a line of “Livestrong” exercise bikes. Now that Lance Armstrong has admitted that he lied about his use of...

Livestrong has a number of products that it has trademarked and copyrighted, including a line of “Livestrong” exercise bikes. Now that Lance Armstrong has admitted that he lied about his use of performance enhancing drugs and medical techniques while he was a professional cyclist, can Livestrong sue Armstrong for “infringement” or “disparagement”?

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jpn001 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The short answer is that Lance Armstrong could be sued by Livestrong for infringement or disparagement in connection with his false statements concerning his use of performance enhancing drugs and medical techniques, but neither cause of action would likely succeed. Under the U.S. legal system (other legal systems will vary), a lawsuit can be initiated by anyone or on behalf of anyone about anything. Whether a lawsuit will survive dismissal or will result in a favorable outcome are different questions. So, the better question here is whether Livestrong would prevail in a lawsuit alleging infringement and/or disparagement on the part of Lance Armstrong. To examine this, we need to break the response into two parts: the infringement issue and the disparagement issue.

 

Part 1: Infringement

Infringement is a claim that someone has made unauthorized use of the intellectual property of another. In the copyright context, infringement involves the unauthorized copying or use of all or part of a work protected by copyright. In the trademark context, infringement typically involves the passing off of goods or causing confusion as to the source of goods. Additionally, some state trademark laws, as well as federal trademark law, contain anti-dilution provisions designed to protect famous marks from activities that would impact the distinctiveness of that mark.

In the matter in question, Lance Armstrong’s admissions that he made false statements concerning his use of performance enhancing drugs and medical techniques do not appear on their face to implicate either copyright or trademark law. His admissions appear to neither copy/use protected works under copyright, nor do they attempt to pass off goods or cause confusion as to the source of goods under trademark. Further, while his admissions likely lessened the value of the intellectual property of Livestrong, the distinctiveness of Livestrong trademarks was likely not impacted; it may even be the case that any such trademarks of Livstrong are more distinctive than before due to increased notoriety. Thus, it is unlikely that either state or federal trademark anti-dilution provisions would apply.

Put more informally, Armstrong’s admissions of making false statements simply do not themselves implicate intellectual property law. Copyright and trademark law are intended to protect the value of intellectual property with respect to the unauthorized use of that property by another. They do not protect against acts that may devalue the goodwill of that intellectual property but that do not actually infringe on the intellectual property rights of the owners of the intellectual property in question.

 

Part 2: Disparagement

The tort of disparagement is a claim brought when someone has made a false statement or statements against a business and said false statement or statements  incur an economic injury for the business (it is not a claim made with respect to intellectual property, which the original question seems to contemplate). The typical context of a disparagement action is a person publishing (either orally or in writing) false information about a business and its products and/or practices. These false statements must have a negative impact on the economic status of the business. This contrasts with the tort of libel, which involves false statements that result in damage to the reputation of a person or business.

In the matter in question, Lance Armstrong’s admission concerning prior false statements about his athletic endeavors may have indeed had a negative impact on Livestrong’s economic interests, but the statements do not likely meet the definition of disparagement for two reasons. First, the statements admitting prior false statements were not statements about Livestrong or its operations and products/services. They were admissions that Lance Armstrong previously lied about his use of performance enhancing drugs and medical techniques during his professional cycling career. Thus, while Armstrong’s admissions may damage the value of Livestrong’s goodwill and may have a negative economic impact on Livestrong’s economic status, the admissions were not statements about Livestrong.

Second, Armstrong’s admissions are not false statements. They are true statements about his prior false statements. Even if Armstrong’s admissions could be found to be statements about the business and to have caused it economic harm, the truth of a statement is a complete defense to a disparagement claim.

 

Conclusion:

While it seems quite likely that Armstrong’s admissions regarding his prior false statements had some impact on Livestrong’s economic status and goodwill, such damages would not be compensable through an action for infringement of copyright or trademark or for the tort of disparagement.

 

Please note that the above analysis is in response to the parameters set forth in the question and merely constitutes information regarding the possible causes of actions proposed in the question. It is not a legal analysis of the situation in question, nor does it address the possibility of other causes of actions. It is intended for informational purposes only.