You know what I love about lawsuits? Paperwork. Available here is the actual paperwork filed by Major League Baseball Properties, Inc in New York District court in their lawsuit against Donruss. Let’s dig in.
The big issue seems to be Donruss’ use of players in MLB uniforms on the cards, whether the logo is obscured or not:
Donruss’ cards depict certain Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball players in their team’s proprietary uniforms. The trademarks featured on the uniforms (as well as the overall trade dress of the uniforms) remain visible and identifiable to consumers, despite Donruss’ calculated attempts on some cards to have such marks modified or partially obscured.
The lawsuit mentions that the last MLBP agreement with Donruss expired Dec 31, 2005, but the terms of the agreement survived the end of the agreement. Further, the agreement provided that Donruss would “not use the MLB Marks in any capacity without the prior written consent of MLBP,” that Donruss “would not use the primary colors of the MLB Clubs in combination with baseball indicia or the MLB Clubs’ geographic designation,” and that “Donruss agreed that its failure to perform any of the terms… would result in immediate and irreparable damage to MLBP, entitling MLPB to injunctive relief.”
I’m not a law expert, but I do think one of the counts in the lawsuit seems a bit dubious. Count 2 states that the Donruss’ products “are likely to cause consumers to draw the false impression that Donruss and/or its trading cards are associated with, authorized, endorsed, or sponsored by, or that Donruss is a sponsor of MLBP, Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball, the MLB Entities and/or the Minor League Baseball Entities.”
This claim seems a bit outlandish to me, but I’m not a lawyer. Most collectors know Donruss is unlicensed, and I’m not sure how MLBP proves otherwise. I suppose less informed collectors may not know about Donruss’ status in the hobby, but they probably don’t care either. Like I said, I’m not sure how the MLBP proves this claim clearly in court.
Anyway, what does MLBP seek in return? Probably the bankruptcy of Donruss. First, of course, Donruss would have to pull everything in violation off the market and deliver it up for “destruction or other disposition at Planitff’s sole discretion.” So buy your boxes now. Second, MLPB is asking that Donruss pay damages, exemplary damages equal to three times the amount of Donruss’ profits or MLBP’s damages from the products, whichever is greater, and punitive damages on top of that.
There’s no guarantee which side wins, and no way to know how much money Donruss will be forced to pay. But I would think if the MLBP wins this suit, we may be seeing Donruss Classics from Upper Deck shortly thereafter. I’ll have more non lawsuity stuff from the lawsuit later.
And before I hit publish, I found I Am Joe Collector’s take on things. He’s actually in law and provides some possible defenses that Donruss may take and makes me feel smart while echoing my take on count 2 above. Thanks for pumping my ego, Joe Collector!