The licensing arms of the NBA and NHL on Tuesday filed motions for temporary restraining orders against websites accused of selling counterfeit products that feature “exact copies” of league-owned trademarks. The move is the latest by sports leagues to defend their brands and intellectual property in court.
Last Friday NBA Properties and NHL Enterprises brought separate complaints in an Illinois federal court against a group of defendants that use aliases to conceal their true identities and that are accused of trademark infringement, counterfeiting, and false designation of origin. The leagues stress how they trademarked well-known logos and related properties, such as “The Finals” for the NBA and “Stanley Cup” for the NHL, which the defendants are accused of replicating in their sales.
The defendants are said to “run a sophisticated counterfeiting operation” that targets sales to consumers in Illinois and elsewhere. Their websites share “unique identifiers” that suggest they are “interrelated.” To that end, the websites all “intentionally omit any contact information,” display incorrect grammar, misspellings and typos, and feature the same payment and checkout methods. The counterfeit products appear to have been “manufactured by and come from a common source.”
The leagues depict counterfeiters “such as [the] defendants” as being “in constant communication with each other” through Chinese-based QQ.com chat rooms and several websites, including sellerdefense.cn, kaidianyo.com and kuajingvs.com. They communicate about, the leagues say, “tactics for operating multiple accounts, evading detection, pending litigation, and potential new lawsuits.” Counterfeiters are also alleged to have maintained offshore bank accounts through which they move money to further cloak themselves.
The NBA’s case is before Judge Joan Gottschall, while Judge Thomas Durkin will oversee the NHL’s. In addition to monetary damages, the leagues seek restraining orders to bar the websites and those who run them from engaging in unauthorized use. The NBA and NHL also want control of, via transfer, the relevant domain name registrations and for the judges to order GoDaddy, Namecheap and other domain name registrars to “take any steps necessary” to make those transfers happen. The leagues further seek orders that would require Amazon, Alibaba, Etsy and other marketplace platforms to “disable and cease displaying any advertisements” associated with the defendants.
Both the NBA and NHL are represented by Justin Gaudio and other attorneys from Greer, Burns & Crain in Chicago. The leagues are not alone in suing the defendants. Similar lawsuits were brought last week by other entities—including Collegiate Licensing Company, the University of Alabama, Manchester United, the University Athletic Association (University of Florida) and musician Harry Styles—which all seek to combat offshore counterfeiters. Similar lawsuits were previously brought by the licensing arms of the MLB and the NFL.
Earlier this month, Adidas sued 83 websites that it accuses of selling counterfeit and infringing versions of Adidas products, including sneaker lines associated with James Harden, Trae Young and other prominent athletes.