In its latest effort to stop counterfeit apparel sales, the National Football League has won a court order allowing it to shut down the operators of 1,500 China-based websites accused of selling fake NFL merchandise. The league earned the order by filing a lawsuit which sought statutory damages of $2 million for each trademark violation and $250,000 for each infringing domain name. "The infringing websites sometimes explicitly claim that the products for sale are 'authentic,' 'genuine,' or 'official,'" the league wrote in its filing.
The NFL believes the website operators are part of one counterfeit network that deceives customers by concealing their overseas location. The sites use English and accept payments in U.S. dollars, adding to the deception, according to legal documents. The court's decision, signed by a U.S. District Judge in New York, allows the league to learn the identities of those running the sites and gain more information about their finances.
In recent years, the NFL has also stepped up quality controls with its licensees, including apparel supplier Dunbrooke (asi/50930), to ensure brand integrity. "Dunbrooke works with the NFL to assure our NFL product is manufactured in a trusted environment which includes checks and balances features like coded holograms which can be traced back to the manufacturer," says Matt Gray, Dunbrooke's COO. "We place internal and external controls on our plant overseas including third party inspections. In addition, we work closely with the league and customs offices both here and abroad providing documentation."
Companies that don't provide proper documentation can be identified more easily by the NFL, spurring lawsuits. The NFL says it has used legal action to close down at least 2,500 websites that allegedly sell counterfeit items.