Hells Angels: Trademark Bullies

from the of-course-they-are dept

The NY Times has a somewhat surprising article about how the Hells Angels have basically become rather aggressive trademark bullies, going after pretty much anyone who comes anywhere near their trademarks, complete with an angry looking lawyer named Fritz Clapp who has a red mohawk (but, apparently, is not actually a Hells Angel member, which I guess allows him to avoid a conflict of interest).
Just in the past seven years, the Hells Angels have brought more than a dozen cases in federal court, alleging infringement on apparel, jewelry, posters and yo-yos. The group has also challenged Internet domain names and a Hollywood movie — all for borrowing the motorcycle club’s name and insignias. The defendants have been large, well-known corporations like Toys “R” Us, Alexander McQueen, Amazon, Saks, Zappos, Walt Disney and Marvel Comics. And they have included a rapper’s clothing company, Dillard’s and a teenage girl who was selling embroidered patches on eBay with a design resembling the group’s “Death Head” logo.
While it appears that some of this is about money, it's much more clear that they're just fiercely protective of who's "in" the club. A deposition in one case of Sonny Barger, the head of the Hells Angels, has him discussing how if he sees anyone wearing unofficial Hells Angel clothing, he'll demand it on the spot -- sometimes offering to exchange it for a legitimate one, but also saying that if the person refuses "I'd beat him up and take it."

Of course, the article also details how law enforcement has often considered the Hells Angels an organized crime group, and I could see how that might lead to some problems down the road. A few years ago, we wrote about how, in a case against a different biker group, the Mongols, the US government asked the court to hand over the gang's trademarks, so that they could stop anyone and take away their clothes if they saw them wearing Mongols jackets or shirts. Basically, the government equivalent of what Barger said in his deposition. Imagine what kind of hell would break loose if the government tried to seize the Hells Angels trademarks as well...


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    btr1701 (profile), Dec 11th, 2013 @ 3:52pm

    Trademarks

    > in a case against the Mongols, the US government
    > asked the court to hand over the gang's
    > trademarks, so that they could stop anyone and
    > take away their clothes if they saw them wearing
    > Mongols jackets or shirts

    I don't understand how this is supposed to works Just because you have a trademark on something doesn't give you the right to go around seizing the property of anyone who's displaying that trademark if you don't like them.

    If I bought the trademark to the Oakland Raiders logo today, I can't just start going around seizing all the t-shirts, hats, etc. that people are wearing with that logo on it. It was legitimately their property before I owned the trademark. All the trademark allows me to do is prevent people from selling merchandise with the logo on it that I don't authorize from this point forward.

    The same would be true of the Mongols. All their shirts, hats, and cuts have been their physical property for years. The government owning the trademark wouldn't give them the legal right to stop them and seize their apparel. All it would do is give the government the right to decide who gets to sell Mongol-themed merchandise from the date of the trademark transfer forward. (And most of these MC clubs don't sell their stuff anyway. They make it themselves, for themselves, so there'd be no stream of commerce for the government to interrupt with its trademark claims.)

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 11th, 2013 @ 4:10pm

    I bet their trademark lawyer is 6'6 and carries a ball peen hammer.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward +1, Dec 11th, 2013 @ 4:47pm

    Re:

    Their lawyer is often times a family member encouraged to pursue legal study, perhaps a daughter, accompanied by someone 6'6 with a ball peen hammer.

     

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  4.  
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    TJGeezer (profile), Dec 11th, 2013 @ 8:55pm

    Not a member?

    How could anyone outside the club know if the lawyer's a member? I was told years ago, by someone most definitely inside the club, that the HA have members in all sorts of professions, including law and the judiciary, who simply don't expose their colors to outsiders. I wonder if the club mounts its trademark lawsuits in some particularly, er, "friendly" courts...

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2013 @ 2:11am

    Four comments? Scared?

     

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  6.  
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    LDoBe, Dec 12th, 2013 @ 3:54am

    The hell's angels (or rather the hell's satans) have been known as trademark bullies ever since Simpsons episode "Take My Wife, Sleaze" Season 11 Episode 8. Yes, I'm that kind of Simpsons fan.

     

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  7.  
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    James, Dec 12th, 2013 @ 6:03am

    Re: Trademarks

    (And most of these MC clubs don't sell their stuff anyway. They make it themselves, for themselves, so there'd be no stream of commerce for the government to interrupt with its trademark claims.)


    Actually, "support gear" is a very lucrative revenue stream for many motorcycle clubs, just as it is for every professional sports franchise. The Hells Angels website FAQ even makes it clear that you don't have to be a member of HA or own a Harley to wear their stuff.

    It's just like any other trademark - if you don't defend it, you lose the "right" to restrict others from profiting from your mark.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2013 @ 6:21am

    Bullies? Hardly. Given the choice between a Cease and Desist letter to jump start our legal system or resort to self help acting out “I’d beat him up and take it.”, I tend to believe that self help is not optimal.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2013 @ 8:31am

    A deposition in one case of Sonny Barger, the head of the Hells Angels, has him discussing how if he sees anyone wearing unofficial Hells Angel clothing, he'll demand it on the spot -- sometimes offering to exchange it for a legitimate one, but also saying that if the person refuses "I'd beat him up and take it."

    This is the kind of thing that makes me a firm believer in the second amendment.

     

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  10.  
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    btrussell (profile), Dec 12th, 2013 @ 9:21am

    Re: Trademarks

    "(And most of these MC clubs don't sell their stuff anyway. They make it themselves, for themselves, so there'd be no stream of commerce for the government to interrupt with its trademark claims."

    Hells Angels have a store in Toronto Ontario Canada if you wish to purchase some apparel or gear.
    http://www.hellsangelstorontodowntown.com/-support-gear.html

     

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  11.  
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    btr1701 (profile), Dec 12th, 2013 @ 11:08am

    Re: Re: Trademarks

    > Hells Angels have a store in Toronto Ontario
    > Canada if you wish to purchase some apparel
    > or gear.

    Which is why I said "most", not "all".

    But even so, the stated purpose of the government seeking the trademarks was to "stop anyone and take away their clothes if they saw them wearing Mongols gear". The actual cuts and rockers that the members wear while riding around aren't for sale in this merchandise stores. Those are produced by members for members. Since owning the trademark on the Mongols logo only allows the government to stop the use of it in commerce, that won't do jack to keep members from creating their own apparel. And it certainly doesn't give the government or the cops or whoever the right to stop people on the street and confiscate merchandise that may have been created, owned, and purchased before the government became the owners of the trademark.

     

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  12.  
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    Fritz Clapp, Dec 12th, 2013 @ 11:29am

    Response to comments

    btr1701: Two legal points. First, the govt (or anyone else) cannot claim infringement of a mark it does not USE, even if it has seized ownership of the registration. Second, HAMC has registered a "collective membership mark" which is an exclusive indication of membership under its own rules; this is different than a commercial trademark or service mark such as a sports team's name and logo.

    Anonymous Coward: I am just 5'6" and quite mild mannered. (Masnick describes me as 'angry looking' but he is wrong.)

    TJGeezer: there are no "secret" members who hide their colors, and certainly no judges are undercover club members; these are both silly fantasies.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2013 @ 12:58pm

    Re: Response to comments

    I have a question, why are a group like the Hell's Angels, a motor gang, even giving a shit about copyright? That sounds like the opposite to who they are.

     

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  14.  
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    btrussell (profile), Dec 12th, 2013 @ 1:18pm

    Re: Re: Re: Trademarks

    I was just pointing out that the angels, whom this article is about, do in fact have a store, so they aren't being trademark bullies, they are just being bullies.

     

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  15.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Dec 13th, 2013 @ 12:15am

    Re: Response to comments

    (Masnick describes me as 'angry looking' but he is wrong.)

    You sure look angry to me.

     

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  16.  
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    bobby b, Dec 13th, 2013 @ 1:37am

    Conflict?

    Why would there be a conflict of interest if the Angels' lawyer was a member?

     

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  17.  
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    GodoftheUSAhellsangels, Dec 13th, 2013 @ 8:15am

    Re: Response to comments

    This Holiday season lets stand by the real Victims in the USA not the freaks who commit crimes again women & children then throw toy drives that others fund and they take credit for throwing . Lets keep the Truth Clear in the USA

    USA Chicken headed Patch wearing hells angels flock Many people are not aware of the bad side of this organisations history, due to the international media abroad who wanted to sell a “certain flavour of truth”, to the unbeknown audience abroad in order to shape their opinion., and the US Media thats keeps the Citizens controlled by pushing their view through entertainment .
    Read more
    http://www.topix.com/forum/city/bellmore-ny/TMLJFK4IJK7MTD3B0

    http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-10th-circ uit/1086851.html


    http://www.boston.com/metrodesk/2013/03/13/hells-angel-member-sentenced-federal-cour t-boston-years/8W7rEEc5tCgBB0cOBBGrxL/story.html

     

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  18.  
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    GodoftheUSAhellsangels, Dec 15th, 2013 @ 7:24am

    Re: Conflict?

    I am guessing if the old Filthy Freaky Fritz was an actual chicken head USA hells angels member he could be riced for discussing every case he takes for the flock with the flock. Now Fritz is the man in the roost and wears his hair appropriately so the court will know he is a Rooster and not part of the Chicken head flock. As a Rooster Fritz ,s Job is to defend every coop he is stationed at ?

     

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  19.  
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    tannya, Dec 19th, 2013 @ 9:04pm

    idiots

    Anyone can buy supporter apparel to almost any mc club. Jesus I even have one saying California Nomads! Yet to debate over who is involved in their clubs, lets just say I'm sure they know people from all walks of life,and rather their judges,lawyers,cops,or whatever ain't none of your businesses unless your a mc member.

     

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