In advance of Rolling Thunder Inc.'s annual motorcycle rally later this month, the organization has filed a lawsuit (PDF) in Washington federal court to stop unapproved vendors from selling T-shirts and other merchandise featuring copyrighted images.
Since 1988, Rolling Thunder has organized a massive motorcycle rally in Washington over Memorial Day weekend to support veterans and raise awareness of soldiers who are prisoners of war or missing in action. This year's rally is expected to draw tens of thousands of motorcyclists.
According to a complaint filed on Friday, Rolling Thunder creates "unique artwork" for each year's event, which is displayed on T-shirts, posters, flyers and other items. The lawsuit accuses hundreds of unidentified merchants of selling merchandise that uses these copyrighted images without approval.
Rolling Thunder spokeswoman Nancy Regg said that this is the first time the group has taken legal action to go after alleged copyright infringers.
“What we make on the shirts, that goes to help the veterans,” she said, adding that unsold merchandise is donated to veterans. “The people that are selling the bogus merchandise, that money doesn’t come to us.”
According to the complaint, Rolling Thunder organizers tried to get local law enforcement to assist at past events when they discovered unauthorized vendors, but found that “without a court order, law enforcement would not get involved.”
Claiming that there is a “strong possibility” that the alleged infringers will be selling their unauthorized merchandise at the upcoming rally, Rolling Thunder wants the court to issue an order barring the sale of such merchandise. The group is also seeking to recoup damages and any lost profits.
According to the complaint, the organization wants court action in advance because it would take too long to go through the process while the event is ongoing. “Before Rolling Thunder-DC would ever have time to secure a court order, the [rally] would be over and the street-sellers of this infringing merchandise would be long-gone,” the group argued.
Rolling Thunder is being represented by Jeffrey Kaufman of Oblon, Spivack, McClelland, Maier & Neustadt. The case is before U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer.