MoMaCha – MoMA sues café gallery

The Museum of Modern Art’s logo on a banner along West 53rd Street (left, photo by Casper Moller/Wikimedia Commons) and MoMaCha’s logo on its storefront (right, photo by Benjamin Sutton/Hyperallergic).

Benjamin Sutton, MoMA Sues New Café and Gallery “MoMaCha” for Trademark Violation, Hyperallergic, 20 April 2018

The Museum of Modern Art’s complaint claims the actions of a Lower East Side café and gallery will cause “harm to its name, reputation, and goodwill.”

The Museum of Modern Art wants no more of MoMaCha, a new café and gallery on the Lower East Side that the museum is suing for trademark violation. In its complaint, filed on Tuesday, the museum claims it sent MoMaCha a cease-and-desist letter in late March, before the café had opened to the public.

“[MoMaCha’s] willful intent here is clear as there is no possibility that they were not aware of MoMA or its famous MOMA mark prior to starting their business earlier this month,” the lawsuit, first reported by Reuters, states. “They are blatantly attempting to take advantage of the MOMA Marks, which are unquestionably famous within the modern and contemporary art space, to promote their newly launched art gallery and café business — perhaps even hoping for some free publicity when MoMA inevitably takes additional steps to stop this blatant infringement of its MOMA Marks, something that MoMA has not been required to do in the past.”

MoMaCha, meanwhile, says it has no illusions of being confused for MoMA and plans to change its logo design on a regular basis. The café and gallery opened in a small storefront space at 314 Bowery (directly next-door to popular gallery The Hole) earlier this month, and has plans for three additional locations in the coming months. Its inaugural exhibition features touchable and edible art by Dan Lam.

“I don’t understand what MoMA wants from us,” the café’s co-owner, artist Eric Cahan, told Hyperallergic.” Do they want us not to exist? They don’t own the word ‘cha,’ it means tea; they don’t own the word ‘more.’ To me it’s a little confusing. They can have Richard Prince in their collection, but I can’t use Helvetica? It doesn’t make any sense.”

Large corporations are often moved to threaten or pursue legal action when their trademarked names, logos, and other design elements are infringed upon by other businesses (see: Trader Joe’s v Pirate Joe’s). MoMA’s complaint offers an extensive primer on its visual identity, branding, and trademark holdings, noting that MoMaCha filed trademark applications for “MOMA” and “MOMACHA” on January 18, 2018 and November 17, 2017, respectively.


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