Major Sports Leagues Band Together Against Merchandise Counterfeiters

Three major sports leagues, among others, have recently banded together to put an end to a purportedly massive online circuit of sports merchandise counterfeiters using the leagues’ distinctive trademarks.  On July 2, 2018, NBA Properties, Inc., MLB Advanced Media, L.P., NHL Enterprises, L.P., IMG College Licensing, LLC, and the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska (Plaintiffs) filed suit against an undisclosed list of foreign defendants for alleged trademark infringement.

Plaintiffs contend that the online stores are selling their products by using their distinctive trademarks, though the complaint is vague as to exactly what kinds of items are being sold.  The complaint alleges that defendants, hailing from China and other foreign jurisdictions, “create the Defendant Internet Stores by the thousands and design them to appear to be selling licensed products featuring one or more of the trademarks owned and/or licensed by Plaintiffs, while, upon information and belief, actually selling Counterfeit Products to unknowing consumers”.  Plaintiffs contend that they have identified “thousands of domain names” that actively sell counterfeit products across the U.S. under numerous aliases.  They further allege that the sites are legitimized to shoppers by accepting payment from major credit retailers and other well-known vendors including Alipay, Western Union, and PayPal.  Because the individuals running the sites have become apt at re-registering domain names, moving funds off-shore, and taking other precautionary measures to avoid being identified, the stores are not obviously related.  Nevertheless, plaintiffs argue that there are similarities sufficient to demonstrate that the common features demonstrate more of a scheme than coincidental commonality, and as such, the stores and defendants are “interrelated.”

The complaint alleges trademark infringement and counterfeiting, false designation of origin, and violation of Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act.  Plaintiffs seek injunctive and monetary relief, as well as the right to change defendants’ domain names at their own discretion, and an order preventing online marketplaces from allowing the counterfeiters to continue selling there.

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