The Beatles sue at least 150 unnamed defendants for trademark infringement.

The Beatles sue at least 150 unnamed defendants for trademark infringement.

Trademark law grants the user of a trademark the exclusive right to brand products with that trademark.  A trademark can be a symbol word of phrase which consumers associate with the producer of a product.  When someone other than the trademark owner uses the trademark to brand goods in a way which causes consumer confusion, that is considered trademark infringement.  A trademark owner can sue to stop the infringement with an injunction and to get monetary damages for infringement which has occurred.

The internet is a double edged sword for trademark owners.  On one hand the internet makes it significantly easier for trademark owners to connect with customers and sell products.  On the other hand it makes it significantly easier for makers of counterfeit products to sell their products and commit trademark infringement.  A trademark can be registered in a jurisdiction, however there is typically no government agency that searches for trademark infringement.  Enforcing trademark rights is up to the trademark owner.

Many owners of famous trademarks struggle with enforcing their rights.  Famous trademarks are the most likely to be infringed upon because of consumer demand.  Famous trademark owners often feel like they are playing a game of wack a mole, every time they sue one infringer another appears.  Filing individual lawsuits against each trademark infringer can quickly become an expensive proposal.  However, one famous trademark owner has taken up a novel approach to combating trademark infringement by suing many unrelated defendants all in one case.

The cases are APPLE CORPS LTD AND SUBAFILMS LTD, vs. THE INDIVIDUALS, PARTNERSHIPS AND UNINCORPORATED ASSOCIATIONS IDENTIFIED ON SCHEDULE “A,” 19-cv-61858 and 19-cv-62853 ( S.D.FL 2019).  The plaintiffs in this case are Apple Corps, the holding company for intellectual property associated with the Beatles, and Subafilms, a company that produced a licensed animated film based on the song “Yellow Submarine”. The defendants in the case are various unnamed individuals that sell products through their own websites and on popular e-commerce sites like eBay, Amazon and Wish.

The allegations in the complaint are mundane.  The plaintiff claims that the defendants are selling counterfeit products which feature the plaintiff’s trademarks.  The plaintiffs claim that the defendant’s actions constitute trademark infringement because consumers are lead to believe that the defendant’s products are endorsed by the plaintiffs.

What is novel about the case is the number of defendants named in each case.  Individual defendants have not been named in the complaint itself, instead all the defendants have been named in a separate document referred to as Schedule A.  That list of defendants is presently under seal so the total number of defendants is unknown.  However, other filings in the case hint that there at a minimum of 150 defendants listed.  Motions to voluntarily dismiss and consent judgments refer to defendants by number. The defendant numbers revealed so far go up to 85.  These filings are made when the plaintiffs reach some sort of agreement with the defendant.  The consent judgments grant the plaintiff’s injunctive relief against the defendant with no mention of monetary damages.  It seems the plaintiffs are satisfied with the defendant promising not to sell Beatles products anymore.

The strategy of naming tens of unrelated defendants in the same case is out of the ordinary, but it seems to accomplish the plaintiffs’ goal.  The plaintiffs don’t want to turn a profit on this litigation, they merely want people to respect their trademarks.

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