UPDATE (6/27): Will.i.am took to Twitter to make two bad play-on-words on his name and, more importantly, deny that he is suing Pharrell. "i.am not suing @Pharrell & I NEVER WAS..." the producer wrote. His lawyer, Ken Hertz, clarified the suit in a statement to Hip-Hop Wired, noting, "This is a run-of-the-mill trademark procedure that has been going on since late last year.
"Prior to lodging our objection with the Trademark Office, will.i.am's trademark lawyer reached out to Pharrell's trademark lawyer in an attempt to resolve the dispute, and the parties discussed the matter for several months. Unfortunately, due to deadlines imposed by the Trademark Office, will.i.am had no choice but to lodge his objection at the time he did."
Putting aside any thoughts on his music, Will.i.am is one of the shrewdest brand marketers in music and a master of digital branding. He's the only artist, to my knowledge, where you can simply type "will.i.am" in Google Chrome, Gchat or Twitter and it will go directly to his site. (Fun corporate marketing game. Try it!)
So it shouldn't be too surprising to hear that the uber-producer is a bit protective of his image and started legal action against Pharrell Williams over the use of the phrase "I am." According to Rolling Stone, Will.i.am is claiming that he owns the copyright to the phrase "I AM" and that Pharrell's logo to his brand "i am OTHER" is "confusingly similar."
"The registration of the mark . . . is likely to dilute the I AM mark and the WILL.I.AM mark," said court reports.
Pharrell, presumably after going, "Huh? He's doing what?", naturally denied the claim, saying in a statement to the site, "I am disappointed that Will, a fellow artist, would file a case against me. I am someone who likes to talk things out and, in fact, I attempted to do just that on many occasions. I am surprised in how this is being handled and I am confident that Will's trademark claims will ultimately be found to be as meritless and ridiculous as I do."
My legal background extends to a few episodes of Matlock in college and getting busted for drinking a Zima at 17 (don't judge me), but claiming to own the phrase "I am" does appear to be vague and general. Fact magazine jokingly, or not, wondered if Will would go after Kanye for "I Am a God." Meanwhile, someone, somewhere, is probably putting together a "26 'I Am' Things that Will.i.am Will Sue" listicle.
Copyright issues are not uncommon in the music industry, but are usually worked out in backroom settings between lawyers and are never made public. Still, let the "I am" jokes begin.