The estate of the Jamaican reggae legend had filed a law suit after low-cost-T-shirts – featuring a picture of a speaking Marley next to the red, green, and gold colors linked to the Rastafarian faith – went on sale at Walmart, Target, and other U.S. retailers.
Firms owned by Marley’s Children had claimed loss of income and order to sell T-shirts at Walmart as the unauthorized rival was distributing a similar product.
A jury in the western state of Nevada in 2011 made an award then of more than $2 million in damages and legal fees to the Marley firms.
The defendants later lodged an appeal that was rejected Friday by a federal court, which agreed that the non-family companies violated the 1946 Lanham Act, a key US law on copyright infringement.
The court, which heard a survey of 509 customers at a shopping mall, agreed that the T-shirts could create an impression that Marley had endorsed them.
“This case presents a question that is familiar in our circuit: when does the use of a celebrity’s likeness or persona in connection with a product constitute false endorsement that is actionable under the Lanham Act?” asked Judge N. Randy Smith of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which is based in San Francisco with jurisdiction across the West Coast.
“We conclude that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient for a jury to find defendants violated the Lanham Act by using Marley’s likeness.”
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