Fox’s ‘Empire’ Sues Empire Distribution Inc.
Empires crumble and fall, but also they sue each other over naming rights. Fox's runaway hit show, Empire, has been a hit with audiences, but it has ruffled the feathers of Empire Distribution Inc., a major music distributor based in San Francisco. The real-life Empire has worked with legendary rappers such as Snoop Dogg, Cam'ron and Jim Jones, Too $hort and T.I., as well as newer artists like The Game, Kendrick Lamar, Freddie Gibbs, Migos and Rich Homie Quan. The company, which was founded in 2010, has threatened litigation against Fox, but there's a twist: Fox is suing the distribution company, seeking to continue use of the name.
According to a Billboard report, Fox is suing Empire Distribution for a letter of declaration stating that the network is allowed to continue unfettered in its use of the name and trademark. Empire Distribution had previously demanded--not in a formal lawsuit, rather in a letter--$5 million as well as roles for several of its artists. The preexisting company has lamented that their brand is being diluted by a show that centers on "a label run by a homophobic drug dealer prone to murdering his friends." Founder and CEO Ghazi Shami explained in the following statement:
“FOX’s Empire television program has created significant confusion with EMPIRE’s products and services. Customers, artists and business partners have all expressed confusion to my employees, artists, and me as to whether the Empire program has any affiliation or business relationship with EMPIRE. It does not. Fox, through the Empire program, advertises, distributes, and streams music and sells downloads under the ‘Empire’ mark. This music shares the same search terms as EMPIRE’s music, the musical genres are identical, and the songs and albums are positioned in close proximity in online outlets such as iTunes, Google Play, Amazon.com, and Spotify. It isn’t just a fictional show; they are functioning as a record label in the real world. This only makes the public confusion worse.”
There is precedent for a company asserting dominion in cases like this, and Fox has experience in the arena: A British judge previously sided with a UK comedy club owner who took the network to court over the use of the name Glee. It's also not the first time the show has come under fire from outsiders; 50 Cent has previously claimed that Fox is biting the promotional angle from his own drama Power.
Empire was a surprise hit for Fox: After the pilot pulled in just under 14 million viewers--already Fox's highest debut rating in three years--the show bucked industry conventions by steadily increasing its following; the ninth episode, which aired on March 4, played to an audience of 19.7 million. It became the first scripted show in 23 years to increase its viewership every week for its first five weeks on the air. (Complete ratings information for the final three episodes of the show's first season are not yet available, but it has been reported that Empire's finale vaulted it over CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory as the 2014-15 television season's most-watched scripted show.) Timbaland helms the show's musical department.
Some hip-hop artists took to Twitter to back Empire distribution.