If you follow motorcycle industry news, you may have recently heard that motorcycle manufacturer giant, Harley Davidson, filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement. Many motorcycle enthusiasts are surprised to hear that this infringement lawsuit was not in regards to a bike models or motorcycle parts. Instead, the motorcycle company sued an on-demand online t-shirt printing business for copyright infringement in regards to apparel. Harley Davidson makes much of its annual profits through apparel, accessories and merchandising sales as opposed to motorcycle sales.
The company has a separate division that is responsible for creating designs and manufacturing apparel and other merchandise. Harley Davidson takes this business just as seriously as it does motorcycle model designs and manufacturing. Therefore, in an effort to protect its merchandising content and profit, the company will quickly lash out with legal action against intruders who tread on its trademark or copyrighted materials. This is not the first time Harley Davidson has filed a lawsuit against a company for infringement. However, this may be one of the biggest suits the company has won. To find out more about how it all happened and the recent outcome of the case, review the following information.
What was the lawsuit about?
Harley Davidson has a diverse intellectual property portfolio, which includes many logos, designs and apparel creations. The company pulls out all the stops when it comes to creating unique and easily identifiable clothing and accessories. Since it utilizes so many important resources to create these lines of clothing and trinkets, Harley Davidson also pays attention to all the details to protect these ideas, including copyrights and trademarks. With dedicated legal teams, the company has set up barriers that make it nearly impossible for competitors and other companies to profit from the theft or misuse of its intellectual property.
However, Sunfrog Shirts, one of the largest online screen t-shirt and wares printing stores in the country, was recently discovered having Harley Davidson logo to be printed on its items. The Sunfrog Shirts business model includes no original content or intellectual property by the company itself. Instead, customers can log on to the online store and design their own creations. These customers can then upload their designs and sell them to other online shoppers. When a customer orders one of these designs, the creator receives a portion of the profit from the apparel the customer ordered. While the company attempts to avoid copyright infringement, it can still be easy for customers to break these laws on their own by uploading designs or logos that belong to other companies or people.
The Harley Davidson logo was printed on t-shirts and other materials without Harley Davidson’s consent or knowledge. Once the company found out about what Sunfrog was doing, it quickly took legal action by filing a lawsuit.
How was the lawsuit settled?
During the hearing, Harley Davidson lawyers battled it out against Sunfrog lawyers throughout the case. The judge in the hearing was quick to side with Harley Davidson due to several obvious negative attributes to the Sunfrog business model.
Throughout the case, several points were brought up regarding Sunfrog, including:
- Its exponential and uncontrollable growth over the past few years.
- The company’s lack of control over copyright and trademark infringement.
- Its lack of planning to negate infringement and lack of organized procedures when copyright infringement does occur.
When further investigations into the Sunfrog business model were conducted, it was found that the company’s website had little restrictions and over 150,000 designs were being uploaded each day to the online printing system. This large number of submissions was making it impossible for Sunfrog to review and approve all designs before apparel and other wares were being printed and shipped out with these prints.
While Sunfrog did attempt to take down the designs that infringed upon the Harley Davidson intellectual property and logos, it was found that the website still had several designs for sale that included logos and graphics that belonged to the company. When taking all of this into consideration, the judge in the hearing ruled in favor of Harley Davidson. Sunfrog was ordered to pay Harley Davidson 19.2 million dollars due to copyright and trademark infringement.
What are the effects of the settlement?
While Harley Davidson will profit financially from the settlement, the effects of this lawsuit stretch much farther than this monetary exchange. The settlement will obviously negatively affect Sunfrog. However, it has also brought to light the importance of regulating and reviewing online content for copyright and trademark infringement.
After this lawsuit was settled, Sunfrog will be more hard-pressed to review its procedures and processes for ensuring trademarked and copyrighted designs or logos are not used by customers through the online system. The lawsuit brought on by Harley Davidson was probably a helpful reminder to the company that its business model is risky and that legal consequences are not far behind if it does not monitor its online procedures carefully. Facing legal action by an industry giant such as Harley Davidson may have been all the company needed to rethink the way the website works and the way the business is run.
Harley Davidson is known for taking legal action quickly against companies that infringe upon its legal rights. The fact that the company filed a lawsuit against Sunfrog for its blatant infringement on intellectual property was not a surprise. However, this is the largest settlement for trademark or copyright infringement that the company has ever won.
The company’s legal team sought such a large sum not because Harley Davidson is in trouble and needed the money, but because it wanted to set an example and bring to light the problem with Sunfrog’s business model. Not only did Harley Davidson settle for a large sum of money, but it was able to force this profitable online business to confront the problems in its model and profitability. By identifying these problems in a court of law through a public trial, Harley Davidson knew Sunfrog could no longer ignore these issues and that they would be addressed quickly and effectively. By taking action against Sunfrog, Harley Davidson was successful in opening up the conversation about the online printing system and the monitoring of copyright and trademark violations.