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Does Run The Jewels Have a Case Against Apple’s New MacBook Ad?

In their new MacBook Air "Stickers" ad, Apple used an image that rapper El-P says is libelously close to his duo Run The Jewels' logo. Does he have a case to make?

On July 22, Apple released a new “Stickers” ad for the MacBook Air. Soundtracked by Glasgow producer Hudson Mohawke‘s latest banger, “Chimes,” the clip whips through a series of short clips of some stock and recognizable images, with outlines of the Eiffel Tower and the New York City skyline, Snow White, Taz, and Homer Simpson, to name a few.

Shortly before a shot of a computer covered with record label stickers — Fool’s Gold, Stones Throw, Warp, DFA, and more — a pair of turquoise blue hands flashed onscreen. A pair of hands that looked, according to rapper El-P, an awful lot like the logo for his duo with Killer Mike, Run The Jewels.

El-P (real name Jaime Meline) has since deleted his tweets, which have been posted on Chart Attack. “OH COOL APPLE FIGURED OUT A WAY TO NOT PAY RUN THE JEWELS FOR OUR LOGO,” he wrote. “OH NO IM SURE ITS JUST A COINCIDENCE.” One of his more pithy exasperated response tweets, below, remains online.

At press time, Apple, Stones Throw, and Warp had responded to Billboard’s requests for comment, but a representative from DFA said that Apple reached out to them and made them sign “a shitload” of paperwork, along with an non-disclosure agreement. Fool’s Gold Instagrammed the shot with the comment, “In good company in the new Apple MacBook Air ‘Stickers’ commercial.” 

El-P and Killer Mike declined to comment to Billboard, but Howell O’Rear, an intellectual property attorney at Nashville’s McInteer & O’Rear PLC, gave some perspective on the situation. “From what I have seen, Run The Jewels does not appear to have a viable claim,” he says. “From a copyright perspective, the cover art for Run The Jewels and the image used in the Apple advertisement are not the same, nor are they substantially similar.” That both images are of turquoise hands, he adds, does translate into claim of copyright infringement; furthermore, the band may not even own the copyright to the illustration.

Other grounds for possible litigation, whether a trademark or unfair competition claim, is also insubstantial. Run The Jewels “does not appear to use its blue-hands drawing as a source-indicating trademark,” says O’Rear, “but the band could make a weak argument that under unfair competition law, the similarity of the drawings may confuse consumers into thinking that the band has sponsored or licensed the advertisement. Again, the drawings are not the same, and it only appears on the Apple advertisement for a split second. As with the copyright issue, the label probably has a right to license the band’s logos and trademarks . . . Apple probably has the right to use the band’s copyrights and trademarks through the label’s direct licensing deal with Apple.”

For comparison purposes, both Apple’s decal and the Run The Jewels logo are below. 

Run The Jewels vs. Apple? |
Run The Jewels vs. Apple? |