Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the most litigious of them all? Looking back on the past few years of fashion lawsuits, what name comes up again and again? Yes, Louis Vuitton has had its fair share and Victoria Secret are no slouches when it comes to protecting their brand. But another name that comes up again and again might just surprise you. Hells Angels. That’s right, the world’s most notorious motorcycle club, once known for their violent, nihilistic ways and general hell raising, are also one of the world’s most litigous organisations. You might think the Angels’ preferred method of solving disputes would involve baseball bats and chains, but you’d be wrong. Under intellectual property attorney Fritz Clapp (a mohawk sporting self described ‘lawyer from hell’), Hells Angels have filed so many fashion related lawsuits, Wigs and Gowns want to hire a few as interns!
Hells Angels v Young Jeezy
Back in 2013 the Angels filed a lawsuit against rapper ‘Young Zeezy’ claiming that the symbol used on Jeezy’s clothing line ‘8732’ was too similar to their iconic Death Head logo and could cause confusion among consumers. They were seeking an undisclosed share of 8732′s profits and wanted production of the line of denim vests and hats to be halted immediately. In February 2014, both parties decided to settle out of court.
Hells Angels V MTV & Rob Dryadic
In 2012 Hells Angels filed a lawsuit against MTV and skateboarder turned reality TV ‘star’ Rob Drydrek’s ‘Young & Restless’ clothing label when the label designed and sold t-shirts that had what they claimed was ‘confusingly similar to the flaming skull logo’ without asking permission. MTV’s role? Broadcasting the ‘confusingly similar’ logo on the TV show “Fantasy Factory.” The biker gang claimed that the logo has great commercial value because of its “very widespread public recognition” which evoked “strong and immediate reactions whenever used.” This one also settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
Hells Angels v Wildfox Couture & Amazon
This one happened in 2011 when this t-shirt (below) appeared on the Wildfox website under the description “Hells Angels Hippie Crewneck T”. (Yep, pretty sure the phrase ‘Hells Angels Hippie’ is an oxymoran.) Whether the HA were more upset about the use of their name in relation to hippies or the trademark infringement, we can’t be sure of, but either way, they filed a lawsuit. And you guessed it, this one also settled too. Because when Hells Angels tell you to stop doing something, you listen.
Hells Angels v Alexander McQueen
Back in 2010 the HA filed a suit against Alexander McQueen for breach of trademark, after the fashion house featured motifs similar to its famous winged death head. Lawyers for the motorcycle gang listed four products from Lee McQueen’s final collection, created shortly before his suicide, of infringing their trademark. They named the £895 ‘Hells Angels’ jacquard box dress and a knuckle-duster ring in the complaint, in addition to a scarf and a handbag. Saks Fifth Avenue and e-tailer Zappos.com were also included in the lawsuit for selling the products. The lawyer representing Hells Angels claimed “This isn’t just about money, it’s about membership. If you’ve got one of these rings on, a member might get really upset that you’re an impostor.” McQueen wisely settled the case and agreed to remove all of the merchandise featuring the logo from sale on their website, stores and concessions and recalling any of the goods which have already been sold and destroying them.
Hells Angels v Company 81
It’s not just its name and logo the motorcycle gang wants to protect, but the number 81,representing the respective positions in the alphabet of H and A and displayed on Hells Angels patches. Back in 2008 a New York clothing brand called Company 81, found itself on the other side of a lawsuit alleging that use of the number 81 on its products was an infringement. And in a sworn deposition taken by a lawyer for Company 81, Sonny Barger, founding member the Angels and longtime leader of the club, left no doubt as to how he felt about those infringing the clubs trademarks.
“ We don’t let anybody use it but us. Eighty-one is Hells Angels.”
And asked what he’d do if he encountered someone wearing unofficial 81 branded clothing?
“I wouldn’t ask them, I’d take it.”
Hells Angels have eighteen registered trademarks in the US alone as well as multiple in other jurisdictions across the globe. And it’s not just fashion companies that have felt the wrath of the Angels, both Disney and Toys r’ us have found themselves on the wrong side of the world’s most feared motorcycle gang when they attempted to cash in on the HA trademark. Even Disney, famously un-comprising in its legal battles, was forced to concede victory and agreed to pull the HA trademark from the movie ‘Hogs’. The case was subsequently voluntarily dismissed. Another legal victory for the Hells Angels!