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‘Empire’ Strikes Back in Legal Battle Over Series Title

Fox files papers saying that its adversary isn’t famous enough to be confused with hit show

Fox has fired another shot in the legal back-and-forth over the title of its hit series “Empire.”

Twentieth Century Fox Television filed a motion seeking summary judgment in its legal dispute with Empire Distribution.

The court showdown began in March, when Fox filed a preemptive lawsuit against Empire Distribution, after Empire sent Fox a claim letter “accusing Fox of using defendant’s alleged marks without authorization” and stating that Fox’s use of the word Empire “somehow confused defendant’s customers, artists and business partners as to whether the series and its music are somehow affiliated with defendant.”

Empire Distribution filed a counterclaim in June, claiming federal and state trademark dilution.

In court papers filed in federal court in California on Tuesday, Fox makes a multi-pronged argument against Empire’s claims.

“Fox has not infringed, diluted or otherwise violated defendant’s purported trademark rights because of the protections offered by the First Amendment,” the court papers read.

Fox also contends that Empire “has failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact that confusion between Fox’s marks and defendant’s marks is probable.”

The court papers go into detail about why consumers are unlikely to confuse Fox’s “Empire” with Empire Distribution, which distributes music by artists including Sean Paul, Numskull and Kurupt, among others.

“[T]he marketplace realities prevent the opportunity for such confusion. Courts uniformly recognize that consumers distinguish among marks in a ‘crowded’ field (such as the hundreds of businesses containing the word ‘empire’); that the use of ‘house marks’ (like ‘Fox’) can eliminate the risk of consumer confusion; and that consumers do not focus on record labels’ marks — such as defendant’s — when making purchasing decisions,” the papers read.

Perhaps worse yet, the papers claim that Empire “has a weak mark in a crowded field” and that Empire Distribution’s marks aren’t famous enough to sustain its dilution claim.

Fox’s “Empire” revolves around rapper and drug dealer-turned-music mogul Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), the kingpin behind music and entertainment company Empire Enterprises.

Music factors heavily in the program, with a soundtrack album from the first season debuting at the top spot on the Billboard 200 chart in March.

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.