June 22, 2024

Luck Combs said it “makes me sick” to learn that a woman from Florida who sold unofficial tumblers with his likeness was sued by his team.

Nicol Harness, a fan who makes her living selling T-shirts and tumblers on Amazon, was served a copyright lawsuit by Combs’ representatives in October, but she never caught wind of it. The lawsuit was sent by email instead of in person—something the Northern District of Illinois federal court allows—and it went to her junk mail, according to CBS. Harness only came to know she’d been sued after realizing that the $5,500 in her Amazon seller account was frozen.

The singer behind the chart-topping remake of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” has a team that is supposed to take down counterfeits but from “large corporations operating internationally that make millions and millions of dollars—making counterfeit T-shirts, things of that nature, running illegal businesses,” not small fan businesses, Combs said in a video message titled “Lawsuit Response” yesterday (Dec. 13). Combs said he became aware of Harness’s plight after seeing a WFLA news report of her crying over the default judgment that had been handed to her since she hadn’t responded.

Combs immediately sent Harness $11,000—double the amount frozen in her Amazon account—and said he’ll set up a more continuous fundraising channel for Harness and her family to help her out with medical bills associated with her heart disease. Combs also said he would fly Harness and her family to an upcoming concert so he could meet her.

Luke Combs tumblers copyright infringement lawsuit, by the digits

$380: Harness’ total earnings from selling 18 Luke Combs-themed tumblers at $20-a-piece.

$11,000: The amount Combs sent to Harness. “She was never supposed to be involved in anything like this. No fan should be involved in anything like this,” Combs said in his video message.

45: Other sellers in the lawsuit appear to be large operations in Asia

Musicians’ mass takedown of counterfeit items in Illinois

At the start of 2023, singer Harry Styles’ lawyers filed a lawsuit aiming for sweeping takedown of counterfeit items originating from China and “other foreign jurisdictions with lax trademark enforcement system” across several platforms, including Amazon and Etsy.

Styles’ case was filed in the same Chicago court as Combs’ case. In fact, that’s where several people and brands, including the National Basketball Association, have flocked to in the last decade. It’s all because of a “Schedule A” filing that allows companies to file intellectual property complaints against a number of online merchants—sometimes hundreds—under a single docket.

This mass-defendant intellectual property litigation, which allows plaintiffs to go after high volumes of infringers quickly and save on court filing fees, occurs most frequently in the Northern District of Illinois, as per March 2023 research by Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman.

Clumping dozens or hundreds of defendants together can create issues, however. While the process does help shut down some counterfeiters, “the ends do not justify the means,” as per Goldman. He argues that rights owners can exploit these dynamics “to extract settlements from online merchants without satisfying basic procedural safeguards like serving the complaint and establishing personal jurisdiction over defendants”—exactly what Harness got caught up in.

“Instead, judges and regulators should do more to protect the interests of the many thousands of victimized merchants as well as the marketplaces and their consumers,” Goldman writes. “Rightsowners have other ways to combat foreign counterfeiters without denigrating the rule of law.”

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