Despite First Amendment argument, federal judge agrees that art collective MSCHF infringed on Nike’s trademark
A judge sided with Nike Thursday morning in the shoe giant’s legal battle against Lil Nas X and a Brooklyn art collective’s “Satan shoes,” with the judge issuing a temporary restraining order against the unofficial Nikes.
After Nike sued the Brooklyn collective Mschf earlier this week over the modified Air Max 97 shoes — a limited-edition run of 666 pairs complete with pentagrams and human blood tied to the rapper’s Satan-featuring “Montero” video — the apparel company followed up Wednesday by filing an injunction and a temporary restraining order motion with a federal judge to prevent the sale of the shoes.
At the hearing Thursday, the Hollywood Reporter writes, Nike argued that the “Satan shoes,” although an unofficial release, had damaged the company’s reputation, with thousands of people on social media — including some well-known politicians — slamming the shoes and threatening to boycott the company.
Mschf’s lawyers laid out their First Amendment arguments, expanding on their stance that the $1,016 shoes are “not typical sneakers, but rather individually numbered works of art that were sold to collectors for $1,018 each.” Six hundred and sixty-five pairs of the shoes reportedly sold out in one minute, with the 666th pair held as a giveaway.
As Mschf’s lawyers told the judge in a defendant letter Wednesday, all but one pair of the “Satan shoes” have already been shipped to customers, and since the collective had no plans to make more of the sneakers, it rendered the temporary restraining order unnecessary.
However, U.S. District Court Judge Eric Komitee ultimately sided with Nike and issued the temporary restraining order against Mschf. In a statement following the judge’s ruling, Mschf stated that their “Satan shoes” were a continuation-of-sorts to the unofficial “Jesus Shoes” Nikes that the collective released previously without legal action from the company. “Heresy only exists in relation to doctrine: who is Nike to censor one but not the other? Satan is as much part of the art historical canon as Jesus, from Renaissance Hellmouths to Milton,” Mschf said. “Satan exists as the challenger to the ultimate authority. We were delighted to work with Lil Nas X on Satan Shoes and continue this dialogue.” However, due to the temporary restraining order, the collective acknowledged that they would “indefinitely” pause a giveaway for the 666th pair.
“MSCHF strongly believes in the freedom of expression, and nothing is more important than our ability, and the ability of other artists like us, to continue with our work over the coming years,” they continued. “We look forward to working with Nike and the court to resolve this case in the most expeditious manner.”
(Representatives for Nike and Lil Nas X did not immediately respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment.)
“Nike filed a trademark infringement and dilution complaint against Mschf today related to the Satan Shoes,” Nike said in a company statement Thursday. “We don’t have any further details to share on pending legal matters. However, we can tell you we do not have a relationship with Lil Nas X or Mschf. The Satan Shoes were produced without Nike’s approval or authorization, and Nike is in no way connected with this project.”