Can Pharrell Williams claim copyright over first name?

Published onOctober 2016

He did try before the French courts… and failed.

Over the past years, INSCRIPTA published several articles and news about colourful copyright cases. There were rather intellectual cases like the one involving William Faulkner and Woody Allen’s movie “Midnight in Paris” (here), some other were merrier like the ones about the Happy Birthday song (here and here). There even was a case involving selfies made by monkeys (here).

Let’s be honest, sometimes rules about the author’s rights and copyright law can be difficult to understand if you’re not a trained and experienced IP lawyer. Even French Minister of Culture has problems with copyrighted work (here).

But claiming copyright over your own first name, we had never heard of that one.

Of course, as an IP lawyer, I would not dare say that claiming copyright over your first name is something absolutely impossible (lawyers are not that brave). But surely I would tell you that it is not an easy task.

Well, for sure, Pharrell Williams is not an IP lawyer and Pharrell Williams is not afraid when things are difficult. So he tried and claimed copyright protection for his first name Pharrell before the French courts.

We already wrote something about the case a few days ago but we focused on another subject (here). Somebody had applied for French trademark PHARRELL and tried to blackmail the star into repurchasing the mark. So Pharrell Williams brought an action against them for infringing alleged copyright over his first name.

Before the First Instance Civil Court of Paris (17 March 2016, TGI Paris, 3rd chamber, 1st section, case No. 2014/14099), Pharrell Williams claimed he had been known for a very long time by the first name and pseudonym Pharrell which he described as being original in itself and in its spelling, as being uncommon in France, and as being an expression of his personality.

The Court had a different opinion though. Obviously the judges were not convinced by the star’s argumentation. They pointed out his audacity in considering that, because he has an original personality, everything about him should be considered original. And they reminded him that he could not have played any part in choosing his first name, even less creating it. Furthermore, they rejected the idea that Pharrell could be seen as a pseudonym because the very reason for a pseudonym is to hide one’s true identity whereas Pharrell is indeed the real name of Pharrell Williams.

Sadly for him, being famous does not change anything.

© INSCRIPTA