University of Arkansas Files Suit Against Counterfeit Retailers

On Tuesday, June 26, 2018, the University of Arkansas’ Board of Trustees filed a suit seeking to stop a “massive network” of counterfeit websites selling fake or unregistered Razorback merchandise. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court, in the Northern District of Illinois. Defendants are not named, but are described as retailers “residing in China” or “other foreign jurisdictions”, operating “without any authorizations or licenses”. These phony retailers are extremely successful, as the complaint alleges that they receive tens of millions of visits per year and generate an estimated $135 billion in annual sales.

Arkansas seeks to stop these retailers from using “Razorback” trademarks. The complaint asks the court to either take away these retailers’ domain names and internet platforms or have search engines shut the retailers down by cutting off their access to the consumer. In the alternative, Arkansas said the domain names should be turned over to the University or to another legitimate retailer. Additionally, the complaint says that when lawsuits like these are initiated, the phony retailers will often switch their names and online accounts in order to continue selling counterfeit and unlicensed apparel. These sites are able to mimic legitimate retailers and appear near the top of search engine results. This plays into consumers being fooled into thinking the retailers are authorized or associated with Arkansas or the NCAA.

The complaint states, “In addition, the counterfeit Razorbacks products for sale in the defendant internet stores bear similarities and indicia of being related to one another, suggesting that the counterfeit Razorbacks products were manufactured by and come from a common source and that, upon information and belief, defendants are interrelated.” Arkansas is concerned that the retailers’ efforts to appear similar to authorized, legitimate websites will cause consumers to think there is a relationship between the counterfeit sites and the legitimate sites or the University.

The University seeks $2 million in statutory damages per trademark violation. Additionally, they seek an injunction ordering online marketplaces such as eBay and social media platforms such as Facebook to stop advertising for these illegal retailers. Professional leagues like the NBA have brought similar suits in the past with successful results. Arkansas hopes for the same due to the importance of protecting their marks. Arkansas spokesman Nate Hinkel called protecting the Razorbacks brand “essential to running a successful athletics department and in maintaining the highest-quality merchandise for our loyal fan base.” However, this suit may only do so much, as these sites can pop out of nowhere and change form almost instantly.

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