A Judge Just Scolded an Art-Licensing Company for Trying to Rush Through a Lawsuit About ‘Knock-Off Unicorn Products’ During a Pandemic

Read the judge's scathing takedown.

Art Ask Agency's website, featuring designs by fantasy artist Anne Stokes.
Art Ask Agency's website, featuring designs by fantasy artist Anne Stokes.

A federal judge in Chicago slammed a Spanish art licensing company for suing alleged online counterfeiters for making products adorned with unicorns and elves.

No, it wasn’t just a slam. It was as if the judge, drawing inspiration from local legend Michael Jordan, took off from the free-throw line to dunk on the company, shattering the backboard on the way down. 

“The world is facing a real emergency,” the judge wrote. “Plaintiff is not.”

In the lawsuit filed earlier this month, the licensing company, Art Ask Agency, sought a temporary restraining order to halt “counterfeiters” in China from selling iPhone cases, purses, and other wares bearing the designs of British fantasy artist Anne Stokes, whose license it owns. 

Stokes is known for her stylish illustrations of mythical creatures: dragons soaring before full moons, fairies cradling crystal balls, unicorns interlocking horns in the shape of a heart. They have names like ”Fantasy Forrest” and “Skull Embrace.” 

The judge pushed the proposed hearing from mid-March to April 13. But Art Ask Agency was not satisfied. The company filed both a motion for reconsideration, asking the hearing to be held immediately, and a second emergency motion, which was assigned to a different judge.

But th ended the back-and-forth with a delectable pair of March 18 orders that put the company in its place.

Art Ask Agency's website, featuring designs by fantasy artist Anne Stokes.

Art Ask Agency’s website, featuring designs by fantasy artist Anne Stokes.

“This case involves counterfeit unicorn drawings… Meanwhile, the world is in the midst of a global pandemic,” the judge began in his dismissal of the company’s request to hold the hearing. 

“[The company] has not demonstrated that it will suffer an irreparable injury from waiting a few weeks… One wonders if the fake fantasy products are experiencing brisk sales at the moment,” the judge, who might be the voice of his generation, went on.

After that he added a quote from Elihu Root, the secretary of state under Teddy Roosevelt: “About half of the practice of a decent lawyer is telling would-be clients that they are damned fools and should stop.” Chef’s kiss.

Then, in a motion denying the restraining order, came the coup de grace: “To put it bluntly, [the company’s] proposed order seems insensitive to others in the current environment,” the judge continued. “Simply put, trademark infringement is an important consideration, but so is the strain that the rest of [the] country is facing, too.” 

“It is important to keep in perspective the costs and benefits of forcing everyone to drop what they’re doing to stop the sale of knock−off unicorn products, in the midst of a pandemic,” he continued. “Plaintiff has come up short (by a wide margin).”

Art Ask Agency did not respond to a request for comment.


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