Whiskey vs dog toy: US top court to hear high-stakes copyright case
'Bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey' [Jozef Sowa / Shutterstock.com]

A bottle of whiskey or a chew toy for dogs? Unless you've had too much to drink from said bottle, it's admittedly difficult to confuse the two.

US distillery Jack Daniel's is suing a dog products maker, however, arguing that its plastic squeaky toy called Bad Spaniels, which resembles the famous black label whiskey bottle, is violating copyright law.''

It also takes issue with toilet humor on the label.

The case going in front of the Supreme Court on Wednesday may have wider ramifications for how copyright law is applied in the United States as its nine judges weigh whether free speech trumps intellectual property rights.

In its suit against Arizona-based VIP Products, Jack Daniel's says that not only is the rectangle-shaped plastic bottle visually similar to its famous whiskey, but that Bad Spaniels is also hurting the reputation of Jack Daniel's with tasteless jokes.

While the label on the Tennessee whiskey advertises a 40 percent alcohol content, Bad Spaniels is described as containing "43 percent poo" that may end up on your "Tennessee carpet."

"To be sure, everyone likes a good joke," Jack Daniel's said in a legal filing to the Supreme Court. "But VIP's profit-motivated 'joke' confuses consumers by taking advantage of Jack Daniel's hard-earned goodwill."

'Freedom to mock'

The spirits maker, which is owned by Kentucky-based Brown-Forman Corp., took legal action in 2014, when the dog toy appeared on the market. After an initial court victory, Jack Daniel's lost on appeal.

As the case made its way to the Supreme Court, Jack Daniel's was backed by other big American corporations, such as food giant Campbell, whose soup cans were featured in Andy Warhol's famous paintings, and clothes makers Patagonia and Levi Strauss, who argued that such humor can hurt their reputations.

But VIP Products is unconvinced.

"Freedom of speech begins with freedom to mock," the company said in a legal filing. "Objects of mockery, satire, or parody—government officials, artists, celebrities, iconic brands—may bristle at negativity or loss of control over public discourse, but they are the price of fame."

The Supreme Court must issue a ruling in the case before June 30.

© Agence France-Presse