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Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Big Appeals Court Win|for Bob Marley’s Heirs

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Retailers that sold items bearing Bob Marley's image to Target, Walmart and other stores violated trademark law, the 9th Circuit ruled Friday.

Fifty-Six Hope Road Music, the business entity that Marley's children formed to acquire and exploit the late reggae giant's assets, rights and commercial interests, filed the lawsuit in question back in 2008.

It filed the action with Zion Rootswear, a company that it granted an exclusive license to Marley's image in 1999.

The ruling notes that the products in question used images of Marley, who died in 1981, that A.V.E.L.A. bought from a photographer in 2004.

A.V.E.L.A. then licensed those photographs to apparel-production companies Jem Sportswear and Central Mills Inc. (Freeze), which made the Marley T-shirts and other merchandise sold at Target.

Neither Walmart nor Target were named as defendants to the action. The ruling indicates that Hope Road and Zion brought a series of actions A.V.E.L.A. Inc.; its copyright holder, X One X Movie Archive; Leo Valencia, as the owner of both those companies; and Jem and Freeze.

Only two claims went before a federal jury in Nevada, and in 2011 the court found that A.V.E.L.A. had interfered with Hope Road and Zion's prospective economic advantage.

The jury awarded $300,000 on that count, and it ruled for the plaintiffs on the other claim, false endorsement, as well. In the latter finding, the court entered a $358,543 ruling against A.V.E.L.A., a $413,638.29 judgment against Jem; and a $19,246.54 ruling against Freeze.

The A.V.E.L.A. defendants owe an additional $1.5 million for attorneys' fees.

Roundly rejecting the defendants' appeals Friday, the three-judge appellate panel pointed to evidence that Freeze had willfully infringed the plaintiffs' rights.

Kim Cauley, Freeze's vice president, testified that she knew that the plaintiffs had the right to merchandise Marley's image, according to the 49-page ruling.

Because the plaintiffs prevailed and because the defendants' conduct was willful, an assessment of attorney's fees was also appropriate, the court found.

Jill Pietrini, of Sheppard Mullin in Los Angeles, represented the plaintiffs. The defendants were represented by Michael Bergman, in Century City, Calif.

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