Harry Styles has filed a lawsuit in the Chicago Federal Court against various online marketplaces selling unofficial merchandise.
The scope of the lawsuit is very broad and requests that "online marketplace platforms such as eBay, AliExpress, Alibaba, Amazon, Wish, Walmart, Etsy, and DHgate shall disable and cease displaying any advertisements used by or associated with defendants in connection with the sale of counterfeit and infringing goods using the Harry Styles trademarks".
It has been reported that the claim cites a huge list of weblinks to unauthorised products that should be immediately disabled rather than naming specific vendors or individuals on the grounds that it is difficult to work out the true identities of online sellers who may use multiple aliases to disguise themselves and their wider counterfeiting networks. This is akin to the tactics employed by other brands and musicians in recent lawsuits, including Nike's 2022 claim filed in Illinois naming over 200 online marketplaces (including Amazon, eBay, Aliexpress, Alibaba and Wish) and comprising 751 pages of Exhibits showing the counterfeit goods in question.
Styles' lawyers go on to state that online marketplaces are trading on the singer's reputation and goodwill by offering unlicensed merchandise for sale and this causes irreparable damage through "consumer confusion, dilution, and tarnishment of [his] valuable trademarks".
The lawsuit acknowledges that the sellers of the counterfeit goods in question are most likely operating in countries such as China (or at least sourcing their goods from these countries), where it is harder to enforce trade mark rights. This could prove to be an obstacle to securing injunctive and monetary relief in the US, despite the fact that many of the sellers are claimed to be specifically targeting US consumers.
The suit also argues that it is difficult for consumers to distinguish fake merchandise from products sold by authorised retailers on platforms such as Etsy and Amazon. This is uncannily reminiscent of the reasoning in the recent CJEU decision regarding Amazon's potential liability for infringing third party advertisements on its platform where it is difficult for consumers to distinguish the source of infringing goods. If this origin confusion allows brands to successfully take action directly against online marketplaces in relation to third party counterfeiters selling products on their sites, these retailers will no doubt be under pressure to make changes to the way in which products are advertised on their platforms to avoid continually falling victim to this claim.
We await the conclusion of the relevant EU cases against Amazon, and the outcome of Harry Styles' US lawsuit, with interest.
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