Sony Music settles trademark lawsuit over Future’s ‘High Off Life’ album

Photo credit: Aviva Klein

Sony Music Entertainment has settled a trademark infringement lawsuit over the title of Future’s album, High Off Life, over two years since the company was sued by a smaller company, called High Off Life LLC (HOL).

In a court filing last week (January 3), a judge in a Pennsylvania District Court ordered to dismiss the case filed by HOL against Sony Music and Future’s label Freebandz Productions (owned by Sony Music) after both sides reached an agreement. 

However, details and the terms of the settlement including whether Sony Music paid a certain sum to HOL or whether they agreed on changing the name of Future’s album were not disclosed.

American rapper Future, born Nayvadius DeMun Wilburn, released his eighth studio album, High Off Life, in May 2020 via Freebanz and Epic Records.

Featuring collaborations with Drake, Travis Scott, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, Young Thug, Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Durk, Meek Mill, Doe Boy, DaBaby, and Lil Baby, the album debuted on top of the US Billboard 200 and peaked at number two on the US Billboard Hot 100.

The album was initially set to be called Life Is Good, which is the title of its third single featuring Drake. The initial title was revealed by the rapper to XXL Magazine in 2020.  

Speaking about the album with XXL Magazine just a month before the album’s release, Future said, “‘Life is good’ is where I am at. Mentally, life is good, it’s just a state of mind. It’s just about being, whatever is going on good or bad, life is good, but life is precious.”

But a month later, Future dropped the album under the name High Off Life.

Future told Apple Music‘s Zane Lowe in an interview that “Being around my family gives me another high now… So I’m just high off life.”

Meanwhile, in its complaint filed in October 2020, five months after the album was released, High Off Life LLC said the title of the album was changed “at the last minute due to concern about coronavirus-related negative press.”

“The album title High Off Life bears no relation to the expressive content of the album and is an exact copy of HOL’s registered and widely-used marks,” it said.

HOL says it has “deep roots in the hip-hop community, particularly in Pennsylvania and the Atlanta area.” 

The company says it has been producing and selling High Off Life branded clothes including T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, tote bags, and other items since 2009. HOL’s founder Zach Richards and his associates have worn and advertised clothing bearing the High Off Life marks at concerts, photoshoots, videos, and other events, HOL added.

They also hosted High Off Life Concerts since 2009 and other hip-hop shows where the brand was displayed.

HOL later applied and was granted three trademarks for the High Off Life brand.

The company accused Sony Music of knowingly copying its trademark in the release of Future’s album. It also sued Freebandz, Future’s own label, for marketing and selling merchandise bearing the High Off Life trademark.

“Freebandz is based in Atlanta — where HOL has had a significant presence in the hip-hop scene for over a decade — and Freebandz’ associates are familiar with and know of HOL and its long-time use of and association with the High Off Life marks,” HOL said.

The complainant claims that it has suffered “significant reverse confusion” as consumers believed HOL to be associated with Future, Sony and Freebandz. It also says it lost its placement on search engines like Google to links associated with Future’s album and merch.

“Overnight, defendants destroyed HOL’s investment of many years and many thousands of dollars into building consumer recognition of HOL’s High Off Life brand,” HOL argued.

Sony attempted to dismiss the lawsuit in January 2021, but a judge in Pennsylvania denied that request in April 2022.

Most recently, Judge W. Scott Hardy of Pennsylvania dismissed the case “with prejudice” to mean that the case is dismissed permanently and can no longer be brought back in court.

The settlement marks an end to another legal battle by Sony. Last month, a jury in Georgia ordered Sony Music to pay $160 million in punitive damages following the fatal shooting of two attendees during a Cousin Stizz concert in 2017.

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