It’s Not All Gucci: Gucci family set for a round of litigation?

December 10, 2021

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3 min read

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What's going on here?

The heirs of Guccio Gucci, founder of the eponymous Italian luxury fashion house, have issued a statement reserving their rights to take legal action over the newly released film directed by Ridley Scott, House of Gucci.

What does this mean?

The House of Gucci film, based on Sara Gay Forden’s 2001 book, depicts the sensational murder of Gucci heir Maurizio Gucci (played by Adam Driver), in a murder-for-hire plot orchestrated by his ex-wife Patrizia Reggiani (played by Lady Gaga) and the subsequent trial. In a statement published last week, members of the Gucci family expressed that Scott’s film is “anything from accurate” as they hinted at the possibility of taking legal action. The Gucci clan assert that they have been portrayed as “thugs who were ignorant and insensitive to the world around them” which is an “insult to the legacy on which the brand is built today”. 

The statement and possible claim in question originates from only the Gucci family and not the Gucci brand, with whom the family no longer have any affiliation after Maurizio Gucci sold his remaining stake in the company in 1993. The brand is now owned almost entirely by the French luxury-goods conglomerate Kering, which owns 99.4% of the shares. A closer look into the casting of Scott’s film verifies the Gucci brand’s detachment from the claim: Chairman and CEO of Kering François-Henri Pinault is married to Salma Hayek who plays the role of Guiseppina Auriemma in the film. Furthermore, House of Gucci is expected to bring fresh attention to the Gucci brand and boost sales. Indeed, the e-commerce website lovethesales has reported a 669% increase in demand for “Gucci dresses” in the days following the premiere of the film.

What's the big picture effect?

No legal action is currently underway but if the Gucci family were to pursue a claim it seems unlikely that they would have any legal standing under US or Italian jurisdictions.  

Under US law, the possibility of the Gucci family making a trademark infringement claim will be off the cards due to the fact that they own none of the rights for the Gucci trademark, with these rights instead belonging to Kering. Similarly, a right of publicity claim in the US will also likely be unavailable. This right prevents the unauthorised commercial exploitation of individuals’ names, likeness, and recognisable personality traits. While this argument may suffice in court if the Gucci family name had been exploited by a product or service, since House of Gucci is a film it will not give rise to a publicity claim. This is because it has been established in the US that films are considered not to be commercial but instead expressive mediums and the public interest in maintaining such expression outweighs that of individuals’.

The only course of action with a possibility of success is a defamation or libel claim on the basis of inaccuracies that portray individuals as unfavourable. However, it should be noted that while defamation claims in the film industry are not uncommon, they rarely succeed.

The arguments raised by the Gucci clan have striking similarities to those of the Versace family following the airing of the TV series The Assassination of Gianni Versace in 2018. The Versace’s, who stated that they had neither “authorised nor had any involvement in” the show had few legal rights as the producers’ first amendment rights protected their freedom of speech. While the Gucci’s currently say that they do not plan on making a legal claim, it appears as though their chances of success in court will be slim.

Report written by Lucy Reynolds

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