Cheesed-Off Parmesan Producers Threaten To Sue PornHub

PornHub CheesePARMA, Italy – If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to seriously enrage members of the Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese Consortium, wonder no more: All you have to do is compare their cheese to a porn site.

In a statement released to the Italian media, the Consortium says its legal team is looking into whether they have the basis for a lawsuit targeting PornHub owner MindGeek in response to a new commercial which shows a couple shopping in a grocery. At one point, the man says “Why don’t get this aged Parmagiano-Reggiano…. They say it’s PornHub Premium of cheeses.”

In addition to not being particularly clever or funny, the ad may have overstepped legal bounds, because rather than being merely a type of cheese, “Parmagiano-Reggiano” is more akin to a brand name, making its unauthorized use in a commercial setting potentially actionable – according to the Consortium, at least.

“In the advert they’ve used the term ‘Parmigiano-Reggiano,’ not the term ‘parmesan’ which can be used generically in the US,” Consortium spokesman Igino Morini said.

In its statement, the Consortium termed the ad to be “not only distasteful and unacceptable, but offensive for our producers and their work,” demanded immediate suspension of the commercial’s display and indicated it would take action against MindGeek in both American and Italian courts if the company fails to discontinue the ads.

Within Europe, cheese cannot be referred to as Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese unless it was produced in the Reggio Emilia area, while in the U.S., anybody with enough milk, salt, rennet and willpower can produce and market a cheese called “parmesan.” It’s a dichotomy with which European authorities have never been particularly pleased and which has caused some consternation during trade deal talks between the U.S. and the European Union.

It’s important to note that like a lot of brands, Parmigiano-Reggiano has registered marks associated with it, including something known under EU law as “protected designation of origin” (PDO). Parmigiano-Reggiano is far from the only foodstuff to enjoy PDO status – and for that matter, far from being the only cheese protected by a PDO. Other protected cheese names you might have heard include Gorgonzola, Herve cheese, Asiago and Camembert, to name a handful.

Another thing which probably doesn’t cut in MindGeek’s favor, should this situation actually evolve into a real legal dispute, is some courts previously have held the unauthorized use of marks in a pornographic context be “defamation per se” – which, in a nutshell, means the party alleging defamation doesn’t have to prove actual damages, because ‘special’ damages are presumed to be inherent due to the nature of the allegedly defamatory expression itself.

Of course, as any attorney who has handled one can tell you, a defamation case is rarely a slam dunk, regardless of the context of the alleged defamation. It seems like an extreme stretch to say the PornHub ad suggests the Consortium is associated with or endorses the site, for example, a claim which really would put MindGeek in a tough spot, had the ad stated or implied such an endorsement.

When all is said and done, my hunch is this dispute will be headed off at the pass before it has a chance to get out of hand in a courtroom. MindGeek would probably be smart to concede to the Consortium’s demand to stop running the ad, not so much because of being in a bad legal position, but simply because the potential headache of defending against the suit, even if they succeed, is far greater than the potential value of keeping the ad running.

In any event, anyone who has heard the old nursery rhyme knows how this all inevitably ends: The cheese stands alone.

About the Author

Ben Suroeste

Gene Zorkin has been covering legal and political issues for various adult publications (and under a variety of pen names) since 2002.

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