A New Jersey-based online seller of custom sports jerseys designed for autograph use claims NBA Properties is trying to slam dunk its business.
Hall of Fame Sports Memorabilia, incorporated in Delaware but with an office in Mullica Hill, NJ, filed a federal lawsuit on Monday after they say the NBA reported them to eBay for trademark violations and selling counterfeit goods, causing a loss of business.
Through its own website, eBay and Amazon stores, the company sells sports jerseys that include player names and numbers and are generally the same color as those worn by the players. However, they say the custom creations are free of any NBA team or league trademarks including team logos and nicknames. HOFSM also says it includes a lengthy disclaimer with each listing, stating that the jerseys are “autographable collectible items” rather than “affiliated with or connected to any professional sports organization.”
NBA Properties disagrees, apparently, and after seeing jerseys with the names of LeBron James, Zion Williamson, Anthony Davis and other players, asked eBay to take down several of HOFSM’s listings in September. eBay did so and the multiple requests resulted in an automatic suspension of HOFSM’s account for seven days causing what the company called “substantial and reputational harm” to its business. They say they’re afraid the NBA will continue to pressure eBay to remove the items and could cause longer or perhaps permanent suspensions.
“Custom sports jerseys have been part of the sports memorabilia market since long before HOFSM began selling them in 2012,” the suit reads. “They are generally accepted and understood among consumers to be collectible items that are distinct from NBA-licensed jerseys, and there is no likelihood that consumers of collectible sports apparel will be confused or led to believe that HOFSM’s custom jerseys are made by or affiliated with the NBA.”
The company says it reached out to NBA Properties on September 28 but received only a “boilerplate” response to its request to reconsider. On October 11, lawyers for HOFSM sent another letter on the company’s behalf, reiterating its opinion the jerseys weren’t infringing on the league’s trademarks. When no response was immediately received, HOFSM filed its suit in New Jersey federal court, asking for a declaratory judgment against the league’s merchandising arm along with court costs.