For five months now, southern California-based Memory Lane Inc., a long-time sports card and memorabilia auction company has been talking to angry customers. Not their own customers. According to MLI, the voices on the other end of the line are disgruntled patrons of a website using the Memory Lane name for its own nostalgia site.
Classmates, Inc., a subsidiary of a large internet company, began rebranding itself as Memory Lane, purveyor of fuzzy memories to those wishing to re-connect with classmates or just a certain time in their lives.
The problem, according to the auction house, is that the angry callers and emailers are complaining about Classmates Inc.’s business practices. Instead, they find the sports memorabilia firm’s contact info.
Now, Memory Lane Inc. has filed suit in federal court, seeking to stop Classmates from using the ‘Memory Lane’ handle.
Classmates was one of the original social networks on the Internet, famous for its black and white school yearbook type photos that tried to lure you into using its site to connect with former class members. You can still find the company labeled as such online but their focus now is on nostalgia and the ‘memory lane’ branding is what’s being used on its primary site.
The company’s billing practices have caused consternation among some who sign up. Some say they’ve received bills for services they didn’t order. Earlier this year, Classmates agreed to settle a class action suit over what plaintiffs said was false and deceptive advertising.
In its own lawsuit, Memory Lane Inc. includes an example of the correspondence it says it receives multiple times on a daily basis from disgruntled customers of the other company.
Memory Lane (the sports auctioneer) filed suit last week in U.S. District court, with attorneys stating:
These consumers are confused and mistakenly believe that MEMORY LANE has defrauded them or is the source of credit card charges they wish to dispute regarding transactions with defendants’ business activities. These customers mistakenly believe that plaintiff Memory Lane, Inc. is, represents or is affiliated with defendants, particularly CLASSMATES.COM. Plaintiff has also received numerous phone calls from confused consumers having the incorrect belief that plaintiff is actually the defendant operating the website at www.classmates.com.
Making matters worse for the auction company is that the defendants in the case have recently expanded their business into the memorabilia industry and now operate as memorylane.com, a domain that Memory Lane Inc. tried to buy when it was starting out 11 years ago. At the time, however, it belonged to a computer chip company. MemoryLane.com offers links to vintage entertainment and sports memorabilia and the auction company believes the move was by design.
“We’ve spent a lot of money and many years building name brand recognition and goodwill and this is just stripping that away,” Memory Lane’s J.P. Cohen told Sports collectors Daily. “Suing them isn’t something we want to do, but we feel we have no other choice. ”
The screenshot below, an exhibit in the lawsuit filed by Cohen’s company, shows vintage sports photos and multi-media clips.
In the suit, Memory Lane Inc. is asking for damages and a permanent injunction restraining Classmates from “using the Memory Lane source designation”.
Memory Lane Inc., the suit states, has “been irreparably harmed and has suffered economic loss as well as the loss of good will from defendants’ unlawful and willful acts”.