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Run-DMC’s $50 Million Trademark Lawsuit

Run-D.M.C. are no more – the group officially called it quits after the 2002 murder of their DJ, Jam Master Jay. But the Run-D.M.C. brand lives on. Last week, their legal entity, RUN-DMC BRAND, LLC, filed a trademark lawsuit against a variety of defendants, including Amazon, Walmart, and Jet.com.

The legal complaint can be read here.

Click here to learn the basics about trademarks

The complaint alleges that the defendants have been selling, without the group’s permission or license, two types of merchandise. The first type features the RUN-DMC name and logo:

RUN-DMC Screen Shot 1

The second type includes Run-D.M.C. style apparel that includes the Run-D.M.C. name in the online product description, such as:

RUN-DMC Screen Shot 2

The complaint states:

The RUN-DMC brand has produced revenue in excess of One Hundred Million Dollars ($100,000,000.00) from the intellectual property associated with the trademark “RUN-DMC” since its inception in the 1980s. This includes the sale of music, music publishing, concerts, merchandising and endorsement deals.
The complaint includes trademark infringement and dilution claims under both Federal and New York state law. The plaintiffs are asking for $50,000,000 in damages, plus interest, attorney’s fees, and a permanent injunction (court order) against the sale, promotion, advertising, manufacturing, distribution, and marketing of goods using the term “RUN-DMC”.
There’s essentially no question that the group enjoys trademark protection for their name & logos. They have been in continuous use in the marketplace for more than 35 years, notwithstanding the group’s breakup. They also have a federal trademark registration for the mark RUN-DMC.
Some of the named defendants are the manufacturers of the allegedly infringing goods. The others, such as Amazon and Walmart, are physical and online retailers. The complaint alleges that:

Defendants Amazon, Jet and Walmart all partner with the same identified entities…that sell infringing RUN-DMC product on amazon.com, jet.com and Walmart.com and trade on the goodwill of RUN-DMC…Defendant Amazon sells and advertises many of the products directly or fulfills the orders for the infringing products…Amazon…split[s] the proceeds from the selling of various products that directly infringe on the Plaintiff’s trademark and/or trades on the goodwill of Plaintiff’s trademark.

Previous caselaw has not clearly shown whether and under what circumstances online marketplaces like Amazon are liable for trademark infringement occurring through their platforms. See this post by trademark scholar Eric Goldman for a discussion of a relevant case from 2015.
Should this case go to trial, maybe we’ll get a more clear picture on this important issue in trademark law.
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