Jack Daniel's takes on tiny distillery over label dispute

The world’s best-selling whiskey maker is accusing a tiny distillery of getting too close for Southern comfort.

On Friday, Jack Daniel's filed legal actions against Popcorn Sutton’s Tennessee White Whiskey. The owner of the Jack Daniel's trademark (Brown-Forman Corp.) said the square shape and lettering on the Popcorn Sutton bottle is "confusingly similar" to that of the larger brand’s familiar logo.

"Defendants' use of the new Popcorn Sutton's trade dress in connection with their Tennessee white whiskey is likely to cause purchasers and prospective purchasers of the product to believe mistakenly that it is a new Tennessee white whiskey product in the Jack Daniel's line," reads an excerpt from the lawsuit obtained by The Associated Press.

"We've taken action against many individuals and companies all over the world for infringing in the Jack Daniel's trademark," Brown-Forman spokesman Phil Lynch told the AP. "We are vigorous in our defense of all our trademarks, and especially Jack Daniel's."

Popcorn Sutton’s lawyers have declined to comment.

The lawsuit reportedly asks for the company to destroy any batches produced in the newer bottles and to hand over to Jack Daniel's any profits made from bottle sales. The lawsuit claims there are several similarities in the way the two bottles are designed, including angled shoulders on the bottles and the white-on-black color schemes employed by Jack Daniel's, which the lawsuit describes as "one of the oldest, longest-selling and most iconic consumer products" in U.S. history.

The small distillery is named after the late moonshine manufacturer Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton. For years, Sutton sold his beverage out of small Mason jars. He became a cult figure with his homemade videos, which showed viewers how to produce their own moonshine. He committed suicide in 2009 in order to avoid prison time over his illegal “white lightning” moonshine manufacturing operation.

Ironically, one bar owner said the Popcorn Sutton brand sales have actually declined since the company transitioned to the fancier bottles their namesake reportedly demanded before his death.

"When it was in the Mason jars, it was a better seller, more of a curiosity," Old Town Wine and Spirits owner Nick Reifsteck told the AP. It’s certainly not the first time a major corporation has accused a smaller, independent manufacturer of stealing its brand. In November 2011, Chick-fil-A tried to stop a local Vermont kale farmer who was selling shirts that read, “Eat More Kale.” Lawyers for Chick-fil-A said the “Eat More” phrase and lettering style too closely resembled their own marketing campaign.