Nike Files Lawsuit Over Lil Nas X ‘Satan Shoes’ Claiming Trademark Infringement

Posted by Ariel Go. Jr.

Montero Lamar Hill, otherwise known by his stage name Lil Nas X, has been making a lot of news lately due to a new line of controversial sneakers. Lil Nas X recently posted a music video of his new song “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name).” The video was full of religious imagery, particularly of Satan and hell, and portrays the singer as a fallen angel who gives a lap dance to the devil. Immediately after the release of the video, which was already controversial unto itself, Lil Nas X announced that he had collaborated with MSCHF, an art collective located in Brooklyn, New York. The Lil Nas X “Satan Shoes” are modified Nike Air Max 97s which features a pentagram, inverted cross, and the words “Luke 10:18”- a reference to a biblical passage that states, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” On March 29, the 666 produced pairs of Satan Shoes were released at a cost of $1,018 each, and they were sold out in under a minute.

This brought a whole new controversy which especially offended those who held religious beliefs. Many people instantly took to social media which sparked controversial debates regarding the sneakers and there were also calls to boycott Nike over the customized shoes. In addition, famous individuals, such as basketball player Nick Young and American football quarterback Trevor Lawrence, have expressed disapproval over these shoes. While the devilish aspects of the shoes have been enough to disturb some, much has been said about the human blood found in the soles. Daniel Greenberg, one of MSCHF’s founders, said in an email that six people on the MSCHF team actually gave blood to create the Satan Shoes. The ink that fills the air bubble in the sneaker has a drop of blood mixed with it. When ask about the method of collecting the blood, Greenberg replied that it was not done by medical professionals, but by the team themselves.

On the same day the Satan Shoes were released, Nike filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York against MSCHF Product Studio Inc for trade infringement and dilution, false designation of origin, and unfair competition. Nike, the world’s largest manufacturer and supplier of athletic shoes, alleged that the “unauthorized Satan Shoes are likely to cause confusion and dilution and create an erroneous association between MSCHF’s products and Nike.” What Nike is trying to say here is that while they didn’t make the shoes, some consumers think Nike did. MCSCHF’s wrongful use of the Nike “swoosh” mark in connection with satanic imagery is likely to cause dilution by reducing the distinctiveness and fame of the Nike trademark. As a direct result of the wrongful acts committed by MSCHF, Nike has suffered and is like to suffer continuous damage to its goodwill, business reputation, and trademarks which cannot be compensated by money.

The trademark issue at play in this case is referred to as the First-Sale Doctrine. This permits individuals to buy a copyright item, such as a CD or sneaker, and resell it without the original creator’s explicit permission. In response to this, Nike’s lawyers state that the shoes were “materially altered.” This was done because the first-sale doctrine does not apply to a product that has been materially altered. The lawyers claim that the red ink and human blood in the sole as well as the satanic-themed designs were sufficient enough to be considered material alteration. In this case, the alterations to the Nike shoes likely influenced the public’s decision to purchase the shoes.

Nevertheless, on April 8, the legal battle between MSCHF and Nike came to a close as both parties agreed to settle the lawsuit. MSCHF had initially wanted to argue that its activities were licit under the First Amendment, which gives them the right to artistic expression. However, David Bernstein, the lawyer for MSCHF, stated that “having already achieved its artistic purpose, MSCHF recognized that settlement was the best way to allow it to put this lawsuit behind it so that it could dedicate its time to new artistic and expressive projects.” The terms of the settlement require that MSCHF issue a voluntary recall for the sneakers so that the footwear may be removed from market circulation. MSCHF also stated that they would provide a full refund at the original retail price, plus shipping costs, for those that wish to return the Satan Shoes. Lastly, according to the email sent to Satan shoe buyers, owners who do not wish to return the shoes and later experience “a product issue, defect, or health concern” should address the matter with MSCHF rather than Nike.

Ariel is an accounting major at the Stillman School of Business, Seton Hall University, Class of 2024.

Works Cited:

Madani, Doha. “Nike and MSCHF Reach Settlement in ‘Satan Shoes’ Trademark Lawsuit.”

NBC News, 11 Apr. 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/nike-mschf-reach-settlement-satan-shoes-trademark-lawsuit-n1263567

“Nike Sues Over ‘Satan Shoes’ With Human Blood, BBC News, 30 Mar. 2021,

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-56572245

Pietsch, Bryan. “Nike Sues Over Unauthorized ‘Satan Shoes’.” New York Times, 28 Mar. 2021: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/28/style/nike-satan-shoes-lil-Nas-x.html

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