Guns N’ Roses Back on Tour With Lawyer to Hunt Bootleg T-Shirts
(Bloomberg) -- Guns N’ Roses went on tour this month for the first time in almost two years, including an Aug. 3 concert in Boston’s Fenway Park, where front-row seats fetched $2,000 each. But along with its roadies, instruments and stage props, the rock band also brought its lawyers.
As fans return to music venues shut since the start of the pandemic, so is unlicensed souvenir apparel, like the t-shirts and bandanas hawked by vendors on nearby streets. Guns N’ Roses is filing lawsuits in tour cities to combat what it says are illegal peddlers that deprive the band of tens of thousands -- sometimes hundreds of thousands -- of dollars per night in merchandise sales.
“These bootleggers are, plainly and simply, parasites who wrongfully profit from the tremendous energies and reputations of performers,” Kenneth Feinswog, a lawyer for Global Merchandising Services Ltd., said in a court filing in New Jersey the day before the band’s Aug. 5 concert at MetLife Stadium. The company has exclusive license to sell GNR merchandise at U.S. concerts.
Branded products remain big business for the band, which rose to fame in the late 1980s with hit songs like “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Paradise City” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” GNR has sold more than 40 million recordings and more than $15 million of merchandise, court filings show. Its trademark is owned by lead singer Axl Rose, guitarist Saul “Slash” Hudson and bassist Michael “Duff” McKagan.
On GNR’s merchandise website, fans can buy everything from $25 branded shirts to $500 leather jackets, as well as a $35 top-hat skull belt buckle, a $30 Yo-Yo and a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle for $25. Knockoffs sold on street corners at concerts cut into demand for authorized products and the band doesn’t get any of the money.
The music business is no stranger to legal fights over trademarks and copyrights. What’s less common are lawsuits like GNR’s targeting street-level vendors rather than big makers and distributors of bootleg products, said Jayne Durden, a vice president of law firm strategy at intellectual property management firm Anaqua in Boston. Still, it can be surprisingly effective at discouraging illegal sales, even though few bootleggers ever show up for court and most cases die, she said.
“This is Whac-A-Mole, but with a massive paddle that makes some noise,” said Durden, based in New Alexandria, Virginia.
As GNR began its two-month, 23-city “We’re F’N’Back!” tour, it got court orders in Boston and Newark to allow police and federal marshals to seize unlicensed merchandise within a certain distance from venues for six hours before the concert and three hours after. Rose, Slash, Duff and the company selling their licensed goods have asked a federal judge in New Jersey for a blanket seizure order that applies to all the concert sites.
‘No Monetary Relief’
“There really is no monetary relief that can be obtained in this case,” Feinswog, who also represented the rock stars in the Newark court, told a judge during a video hearing on Tuesday. Instead, the intent is to discourage illegal sales by enforcing the seizure order, he said.
“Major bootleggers understand the economic realities and limitations of the artists’ efforts to stop illegal merchandise sales,” Feinswog said in a court filing. “And they are extremely sophisticated regarding whether a ‘Seizure Order’ has been entered for a particular concert.”
Feinswog didn’t respond to requests for comment.
A nine-person security team hired by Global Merchandising seized 417 unlicensed shirts outside the concert at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, according to court papers. At a show in Detroit a few days later, security personnel nabbed nine vendors and confiscated 240 bootleg shirts, including some listing GNR’s 2021 tour dates that could be sold at other venues, a court filing shows.
The court’s seizure order “serves as a deterrent because our enforcement causes the infringers to spend most of their time avoiding us,” according to an affidavit filed by Jason Lee, who was hired by Global Merchandising to help with the crackdown. “Based on our experience, we expect that we will see the same infringers again at subsequent concerts.”
The cases are Global Merchandising Services Ltd. v. Does, 2:21-cv-14510, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark); and v. Does, 21-cv-11214, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).
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