Appeals court upholds ruling on unofficial Bob Marley T-shirts

March 2015




The Bob Marley estate has successfully persuaded an appeals court in the US to uphold a ruling in their favour over unofficial t-shirts that featured the late reggae star. The Marley Estate, and their merchandising company Fifty-Six Hope Road Music, first sued clothing makers AVELA over unofficial Bob Marley t-shirts it was selling in Walmart and Target back in 2008, winning the case three years later. AVELA was ordered to pay the Marley estate $750,000 in profits generated by the t-shirts, as well as $300,000 in damages and $1.5 million to cover legal costs. The clothing firm appealed. The case was based on the false endorsement elements of American trademark law. Although not as narrowly defined as passing off, those US laws are much narrower than publicity rights. According to The Hollywood Reporter, one of the appeal judges hearing the case noted that: “This case presents a question that is familiar in our circuit. When does the use of a celebrity’s likeness or persona in connection with a product constitute false endorsement that is actionable under the Lanham Act?”

Consumer confusion need to be proven and lawyers for the Marley estate presented a survey in which 37% of just over 500 shoppers shown one of AVELA’s offending T-shirts said they assumed the garment would have been approved by the estate. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the original ruling.

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