A long-raging legal battle over the rights to Frida Kahlo’s legacy and image—which escalated in 2018 following the release of a Barbie doll made in the Mexican painter’s likeness—has come to a close in the US after being dismissed in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
When Kahlo died in 1954, a number of her property rights passed to her niece, Isolda Pinedo Kahlo. Isolda Pinedo Kahlo’s daughter, Maria Cristina Romeo Pinedo, obtained power of attorney over these property rights in 2003. In March 2018, the Frida Kahlo Corporation (referred to throughout the case as the FKC) filed a complaint in a US District Court for Southern Florida, claiming that Pinedo was illegally using Kahlo’s image and undermining the company.
The FKC—which was formed in 2004 “with the goal of commercialising the Frida Kahlo brand”, according to the initial complaint—comprises various shareholders, including Pinedo. According to their website, FKC “owns the trademark rights and interests to the name Frida Kahlo worldwide”, and they have licensed Kahlo’s likeness on everything from sneakers to tequila bottles.
In the Florida complaint, FKC accused Pinedo and her daughter of trademark infringement, claiming that the two set up a competing website (www.fkahlo.com) that “expressly offers goods and services using the trademark Frida Kahlo, a trademark that is identical to Plaintiff’s FKC Trademarks”. They also claimed defamation, arguing that Pinedo’s public statements questioning the brand’s ownership of the Kahlo image have caused them to lose “at least one” licensing opportunity.
According to court documents filed earlier this month, the defendants, Pinedo and her daughter Mara de Anda Romeo, successfully argued that the case should not be fought in the US. “The Defendants, two Mexican citizens, argue that this case—a trademark infringement case brought by two Panamanian corporations—cannot be heard in the Southern District of Florida,” wrote Judge Robert N. Scola Jr., “The Plaintiffs disagree, arguing that jurisdiction is appropriate. After a review of the briefs and relevant law, the Court grants the Defendants’ motion to dismiss.”
“First, the Court finds that litigation in Florida would be burdensome for the Defendants—two individuals who both reside in Mexico City and have no connection to Florida,” wrote Judge Scola. “Second, Florida’s interest in this dispute is minimal. While the Plaintiffs allegedly have an office in Florida, there has been no showing of the impact of the Defendants’ alleged infringements in Florida to raise Florida’s interest beyond a generalised interest in enforcing federal law.”
The judge noted that “ongoing litigation in Mexico and Panama—countries where the parties indisputably reside—may provide forums” for a legal battle to be fought.