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Does Kanye West Have a Legal Claim Against Adidas?

Over the last week, Kanye West has used Instagram to express his disappointment with Adidas, which manufactures his Yeezy brand.

In a series of now-deleted Instagram posts, the rapper-turned-fashion mogul has called out Adidas for allegedly copying his designs, as well as not giving him enough control over his products and not opening up Yeezy stores, among other grievances. West also suggested he wanted to terminate his deal with the company and have Adidas pay him $2 billion in damages. Adidas has declined to comment.

After designing for Nike, West signed a deal with Adidas in 2013. In June 2016, Adidas and West announced they had extended their partnership, calling it a “Yeezy-branded entity creating footwear, apparel and accessories for all genders across street and sport.”

Although details of West’s contract are unknown, legal experts say some conclusions can be drawn about the partnership.

“Traditionally, in any type of licensing agreement, the brand, Adidas, would own 100% of the intellectual property,” explained Jared Goldstein, a lawyer and the co-author of “Sneaker Law.”

If this were the case, West would have little backing to support claims he has made in the past, such as Adidas copying his designs to create the Adilette 22 slide, calling it “a fake Yeezy” in June. As Goldstein explained, “they can’t steal something that they own.”

In a 2019 interview with Forbes, West claimed he still owned 100% of Yeezy. However, as Goldstein pointed out, while West might still own the Yeezy name and likeness, the actual shoe designs probably fall under the purview of the entity that holds the intellectual property, which is likely Adidas. This could potentially give Adidas the power to rerelease designs from the archives or relaunch the designs in new colorways.

“They’re doing all the manufacturing, they’re providing the platform, they’re providing the materials, the distribution,” Goldstein said. “That’s what happens in a licensing arrangement.”

Zak Kurtz, a provider of sneaker and streetwear legal services who goes by Sneaker Legal on Instagram, agreed that it’s likely that Adidas owns the intellectual property related to these Yeezy designs.

As Kurtz pointed out, even though West is listed as the inventor of the design patent for the Yeezy Slide, another shoe he claimed Adidas copied, the brand could still have acquired this patent.

“At any point in time it could get assigned to someone else,” Kurtz said of the patent. “It doesn’t signify anything right now.”

While all signs point to West having little legal claim against Adidas, the company can likely claim a breach of contract from West due to a violation of confidentiality, as well as disparagement to the company and its leaders.

In recent weeks, West posted a fake front-page newspaper headline on his Instagram account that read, “Kasper Rørsted Also Dead at 60,” referring to the Adidas CEO who will step down from his role next year. He also shared a series of posts aimed at Adidas SVP and GM Daniel Cherry III, who joined in January, and posted headshots of the company’s supervisory board members as well. Other images posted included a photo of West and Cherry facing one another with the words “Adidas Civil War” between them, which is reminiscent of the movie poster for the Marvel Studios film “Captain America: Civil War.”

Disparagement and privacy clauses are typical for these types of agreements, experts said. But even if Adidas had a case to terminate the deal with West, it is unlikely they’d pursue it.

“Adidas was sort of going downhill until the Yeezys came out,” Kurtz said. “If Adidas loses Kanye, I think that could definitely be a big hit to them.”

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