The Topps Company has filed copyright and trademark infringement claims against Leaf Trading Cards over a recently-released advertisement for its 2011 Leaf Best of Baseball product. In federal court papers obtained by Sports Collectors Daily, Topps is asking for unspecified damages, claiming Leaf doesn't have the rights to use pictures of old Topps cards that feature the company's logos nor the players it has under exclusive contract.
Collectors who buy a Best of Baseball pack receive two encapsulated cards: one Leaf-created cut signature card along with a PSA or BGS-graded and authenticated card from various manufacturers throughout the years. Some of the best available cards include a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, a 1958 Mantle, 1972 Carlton Fisk rookie, 2001 Albert Pujols rookie and more recent autographed Topps cards of teenage phenom Bryce Harper. One-pack boxes of the product have been selling for $235-275.
Topps claims that not only does it own the copyrights of the card images and logos but also the use of the players' names and autographs. Even though the cards Leaf is packaging are "buybacks", Topps claims Leaf doesn't have the rights to use pictures of the cards in promoting Best of Baseball. Leaf does include a disclaimer about the cards pictured at the bottom of its sell sheet, but that apparently isn't satisfactory to Topps.
In the court papers (see below), Topps claims Leaf's sell sheet is "a blatant attempt at capitalizing on Topps' goodwill and intellectual property to advertise and promote Leaf's product."
Topps filed suit this month, but it began complaining about its smaller competitor actually started last year.
On July 14 of 2010, Topps claims it sent a letter to Razor Entertainment, also under the umbrella of Leaf owner Brian Gray when Razor used images of an autographed Bowman Chrome Stephen Strasburg to promote its Rookie Retro buyback product. The next day, Topps says Gray agreed to stop using the sell sheet and said remaining copies would be destroyed.
When it saw this year's sell sheet for Best of Baseball, Topps apparently decided it would take the matter to court. 11 of 18 images on the sell sheet feature various Topps cards from 1952-2010 including some that feature players with whom Topps has exclusive marketing arrangements. Topps claims using pictures of those cards will cause confusion in the marketplace.
"Without exclusivity, the license's value is highly diminished, both to Topps and the exclusive players", the court papers state.
What a judge must decide is how far Topps' rights extend with regard to use of previously released products that are being repackaged for consumers.