Detroit Vs. Everybody is taking an online T-shirt seller to court over clothing that appears to evoke its shirt designs and language.
In an infringement suit filed this month in Michigan federal court, the streetwear brand accused Gotham City Online, which sells graphic T-shirts, of selling apparel with similar designs on Amazon and on the Gotham City websites. Among the items of clothing at issue are shirts sold by the Pop Threads website, which is also listed on Gotham City’s site, bearing phrases like “Chicago vs Everyone” and “Class of 2020 vs Everyone,” echoing the lettering on the “Detroit Vs Everybody” classic T.
The “Detroit Vs Everybody” shirt retails for $34.99, according to its website, while the allegedly infringing “Class of 2020 vs Everyone” T-shirt is listed on Amazon in the price range of between $7.50 and $28.99.
“Detroit Vs Everybody is a homegrown organic brand that Tommey Walker has created and cultivated from the ground up,” said the company’s attorney, Joseph A. Bellanca of Hertz Schram PC.
“And, as a result of his goodwill, and everything that comes with the continued maintenance and efforts of the brand, he has established not only federal trademark registrations, but exclusive trademark rights,” he added. “We expect others to abide by well-settled federal law.”
The suit marks the latest development in the ongoing infringement dispute between the parties. Detroit Vs Everybody has previously issued takedown notices through Amazon, a feature that allows brands to flag the sale of allegedly infringing products sold on the platform.
In response, Gotham City Online filed petitions with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office last year, challenging the validity of Detroit Vs Everybody’s trademarks. Those petitions are pending and halted while the current suit is proceeding.
“Petitioner is unwilling to comply, among other reasons, because it is making a fair and expressive use of the words ‘vs. Everyone,’ as permitted under the Lanham Act and protected under the First Amendment,” Gotham City Online had argued in one of its petitions. The online company also invoked grammar rules to argue that “vs Everybody” could not be trademarked by the streetwear company.
“Since ‘vs’ is a preposition that conveys conflict between two opposing sides, ‘vs Everybody’ only makes sense if preceded by a proper noun (e.g., ‘Chicago vs Everybody,’ ‘New York vs Everybody’),” Gotham City argued in its petition. “The contested registration does not specify that proper noun.”
Detroit Vs Everybody, whose first collection came out in 2012, also has a collaboration with Gucci, WWD recently reported.
Gotham City Online’s chief executive officer Jonathan Garriss alluded to the collaboration in arguing that Gotham City websites were selling graphic T-shirts at affordable prices.
“We respect [intellectual property] rights, but when a company is abusing the trademark system, we will push back,” Garriss said.
“We understand that DVE doesn’t want us selling a shirt for $15 when they are trying to sell Gucci shirts for $390,” he said. “However, we think our use of ‘vs everyone’ (their alleged trademark is ‘vs everybody’) is proper, and we believe people of every means should have access to a reasonably priced shirt.”