In the 1970s, a printing company named Gemini Rising was ordered to stop selling posters that read “Enjoy Cocaine.” The design was deemed illegal. Why? Because “Enjoy Cocaine” was drawn in the same script as the trademarked “Coca-Cola” logo. The Coca-Cola Co. argued that the bright-red poster could confuse customers into thinking the soft drink maker was promoting drugs, and that would damage the brand.
While absurd, Coca-Cola’s argument prevailed (read the full court decision here). And to this day, big companies take protecting their brands very seriously, firing cease-and-desist letters (C&Ds) at any project that uses their trademarks in creative, unlicensed, or even unintended ways.
Which is exactly what makes a new project from the prank-loving creative studio MSCHF so much fun.
Called C&D Grand Prix, the new website is selling F1-style racing jackets, each adorned with an unlicensed use of a major brand, including Coca-Cola, Walmart, Tesla, Microsoft, Amazon, Disney, Subway, and Starbucks. You can buy the jackets for $60 apiece. But as a bonus, whichever company sends an inevitable cease-and-desist letter first will result in an extra prize for its fans. MSCHF will send these purchasers a matching racing hat, free of charge.
Why would MSCHF put so much effort into the project? “The big thing is that blanket C&Ds are a phenomenon by which large companies stifle a lot of creativity,” explains Daniel Greenberg, MSCHF’s chief revenue officer. “The corporate C&D letter is absolutely commonplace because no one has the resources to fight one of them. Fair use is great in theory, but it’s also practically pay to play. Grand Prix flips that dynamic on its head and makes the C&Ds into a creative element of the drop.”
Indeed, MSCHF’s bread and butter is this sort of creative-first, anti-corporate viewpoint. In the past, MSCHF has sold earmuffs that deafen Alexa, Nikes remade as “Satan Shoes” with Lil Nas X’s blood inside, and a version of Times New Roman that pads out papers for college students chasing a page count.
“Fair use” is a legal loophole for creatives (and journalists, too!), which is meant to allow a work to be reproduced for tasks like commentary or parody. However, as Greenberg alludes, an argument of fair use is something you’d have to bring up in court, with a hired attorney, as a defense against corporate allegations of trademark infringement. The aforementioned Gemini Rising defense attempted to argue fair use only to be shot down by the judge. Which is exactly what makes a C&D letter so scary: If you don’t stop whatever you’re doing, it’ll cost you money in legal fees.
The C&D Grand Prix appears to have been a hit: Six of the eight jackets had already sold out when this story was filed, leaving only Walmart and Subway available. However, when asked how many the company had put on sale, MSCHF declined to share units in inventory. In other words, six jackets, in total, may have sold. Or it could be 60. We have no way of knowing.
All the same, Greenberg says it’s “important to keep poking bears.” We’ll update this story if and when any of the companies MSCHF is targeting “wins” its Grand Prix.