Festivalnation: dancing to the rhythm of industrial property.

Thursday, 13 of July of 2023

As every summer, the music festival industry is in full swing, with Spain being one of the world's leading destinations for festival tourism.

According to data provided by Spain Live Music, the association of music tourism in Spain, the festival sector in our country has been growing at a year-on-year rate of almost 70%. Far from having reached its peak, it is expected that in 2023 the figures of the previous year will be exceeded, a period in which more than 900 festivals took place (some visited by more than 300,000 people) throughout the length and breadth of our geography.  

Like any other sector (especially if it is a successful one), it is essential to take industrial and intellectual property into due consideration, not only as a source of competitive advantage but also as a tool that allows us to develop our activity without interference from third parties. 

What would happen if days before starting a festival we receive a request from a competitor asking us to stop using the trademark with which we identify the festival? How would we act if someone tries to take away the trademark that we have worked so hard to establish in the market, taking advantage of its popularity? What happens if a third party registers a domain name similar to the name of our festival with the intention of reselling it to the highest bidder? These and many other questions can give rise to different problems that affect the commercial success or failure of a festival.

At this point, we review some of the most notorious cases in terms of exclusive rights and festivals, which illustrate the importance of having a good policy on the matter.

Viña Rock

We start with one of the most mythical festivals in the national scene, Viña Rock. The creator of the eponymous trademark saw how the defendant, a company with which he had collaborated for years in the organization of the festival, registered it in his name. The Supreme Court confirmed, after a long judicial process, that such registration was in bad faith and as such null and void. 


Jumping the pond, we now refer to the dispute that took place around the use of the Tomorrowland trademark.

On the one hand, Disney had rights to the trademark in the United States, while on the other hand it was used by a third party to identify an electronic music festival in Belgium. The conflict was triggered when the organizers of the festival wanted to land in the United States, which was not welcomed by Disney, which asserted its trademark rights. This led to a negotiation and finally to the corresponding agreement whereby both parties have been able to continue using the trademark in question to identify themselves in the market.


The United States also saw the organizers of the iconic Coachella festival sue competitors for trademark infringement for organizing festivals identified with signs -Moechella and Afrochella- that allegedly took advantage of the former's reputation.


Back on the European continent, the dispute between the organizers of the well-known Glastonbury festival and a third party who had registered the domain name to take advantage of the reputation of the original event and obtain unfair profits from ticket sales. In this case, and after the mandatory complaint, it was concluded that the domain name in question was incompatible, because of a finding of similarity, with the Glastonbury Festival trademark, and was therefore cancelled. 


In the copyright area, we refer to the dispute between the promoters of the Lollapalooza festival and a designer who had licensed part of his visual work.  The original license was limited to the use of illustrations for the promotion of the Lollapalooza events in Chicago and Santiago de Chile. However, the scope in which the illustrations were finally used went beyond what had been agreed, as they were used to promote events in Paris. The conflict, once again, ended up in court, although we do not know the outcome.


As a last example, we refer to the dispute between Sabam, an entity that manages the rights of authors, composers and publishers in Belgium, and the promoters of the aforementioned Tomorrowland festival. In 2010, said festival - which was starting to become a reference - sold just over 120,000 tickets, although the royalty settlement was the one that corresponded to barely 8,000. After more than a decade of back and forth, the parties reached an agreement whose specific terms have not been disclosed, although it seems that the defendant would have agreed to compensate Sabam for part of the amounts owed.

As a moral of the story, at festivals, as with any other activity that takes place in the market, be prepared, protect your difference, make sure you do not step on third party rights and, in short, do not skimp when defining and implementing an adequate strategy in terms of industrial and intellectual property.

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