In 2013, while looking for cat-themed products, Fort Lauderdale resident Emma Bassiri realized there was no one-stop shop where cat lovers like her could buy clothes, jewelry, handbags, socks, and other accessories. A year later, Meowingtons.com was born.
Bassiri, a Toronto native who's now 25, was happily peddling cat-themed leotards, earrings, and headbands from the site when, late last year, EDM star Deadmau5 petitioned to cancel her trademark for Meowingtons. The reason: His cat is named Professor Meowingtons Ph.D., and he's been using "Meowingtons" in promotional items — including the first headphones designed specifically for cats — longer than Bassiri. The DJ (real name Joel Zimmerman) claims Bassiri is a fan who stole his famous cat's name.
"One hundred percent false – I have never met Joel Zimmerman, wasn’t aware of him, his cat, or his music," Bassiri writes in an email to New Times. "I’m no fan of a guy who thinks he can bully a 25-year-old business owner because he is rich and famous."
But the DJ's attorney, Dina LaPolt, says the artist used the name three years before Bassiri obtained the trademark. She says that Zimmerman wanted to resolve the dispute amicably but that Bassiri and her attorney forced litigation.
"He didn't want to litigate with her to begin with," LaPolt says. "He likes to litigate against people like Disney, OK, not young, hip women from Toronto who are free thinkers and can change the world."
Bassiri's lawyer, though, says talks fell apart after Zimmerman offered a "take it or leave it" deal. Now she's suing Zimmerman in federal court for his attempts to claim the Meowingtons name. Her attorney, Michael Santucci, says there's a difference between putting a cat's face on a T-shirt — even if it says "Meowingtons" — and establishing a trademarked brand of apparel.
"I think that's what the court is going to look to, not whether or not he named the cat, not whether or not he posted pictures of the cat or used the cat's name in certain circles," he says.
The battle between Bassiri and Zimmerman began in 2015 when he tried to trademark "Meowingtons" and couldn't because Bassiri already had it. He'd adopted a black-and-white rescue cat in 2010 and named him for his habit of meowing tons, and used his name and image on an album cover and as the name of a tour. In his petition to cancel Bassiri's trademark, he says the cat "has become widely recognized in his own right" and has a social media following.
The day Bassiri filed her lawsuit, Zimmerman fired back on Twitter.
In a statement to the Hollywood Reporter days later, he wrote, "Now I am forced to litigate this woman out of existence. Bye bye Emma Bassiri. I am going to protect the trademark I have been using since 2011.”
Despite those comments, his lawyer says Bassiri's claims that Zimmerman is a bully are untrue. She says Zimmerman is a progressive artist who's involved in philanthropy and helping disenfranchised youth. "When you push someone, they get aggressive," she says. "When someone gets sued, you react with aggression. He's not afraid of litigation."
Bassiri, however, says she had no choice but to sue when negotiation attempts ended after Zimmerman sent back conditions "extremely lopsided in his favor."
"After this happened, going to court to assert my rightful use of Meowingtons became unavoidable," she writes. "Now knowing that he is also supposedly a cat lover, I don’t understand his need to take down a business that is bringing cat lovers together from all over the world to better the lives of cats and their humans."