Since his death in 1981, reggae superstar Bob Marley and his “image” continue to be broadly popular and command millions of dollars each year in merchandising revenue. His children own an entity called Fifth Six Hope Road, Music, Ltd. which was formed to acquire and exploit the assets, rights and commercial interests of their late father. In 1999, Hope Road granted Zion Rootswear, LLC, an exclusive license with regard to the use of Bob Marley’s image on various clothing and other merchandise.
After discovering that several companies had been selling t-shirts and other merchandise with the image of Bob Marley on them, Hope Road and Zion brought a lawsuit against them and included a claim for “false endorsement” under 15 USC §1125(a). (This article does not address the other claims pursued in this lawsuit.)
After trial, a jury found that the Defendants were liable under a false endorsement theory and awarded Plaintiffs almost $800,000 in damages plus their attorney’s fees of approximately $1.5 million. The Defendants appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit arguing that there was not sufficient evidence to support a finding against them and that Plaintiffs’ use of the false endorsement claim under 15 USC §1125 effectively created a federal “right of privacy,” which Congress had not intended.
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