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Outlaw motorcycle gang Hells Angels sues tech start-up for IP breach


Outlaw bikies Hell Angels take legal action over trademarks.
Outlaw bikies Hell Angels take legal action over trademarks.

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Outlaw motorcycle gang Hells Angels Australia has taken legal action in the Federal Court against tech start-up Redbubble for breach of its intellectual property, eschewing the club's more "traditional" out-of-court dispute resolution techniques.

The "1 per center" bikie group, which in court documents refers to itself as "motorcycle enthusiasts", is battling the company that bills itself as an "online art community" after finding several products allegedly using the clubs' trademarks available for sale on Redbubble's website.

According to its Australian Federal Court filing, upon searching "Hells Angels" and "Bikies" on the website, the club alleges it found a number of items bearing its trademarks, including unisex Hells Angel t-shirts, Hells Angels Math club t-shirts and hoodies, Hells Angel Movie t-shirt and hoodies and a poster showing a small girl sitting with a Hells Angel.

The trademarks of the Hells Angels have been used by the gang itself on a host of products from painted emu eggs to more traditional bikie accessories like belt buckles and death-head rings.

The Hells Angels has provided the Federal Court with a list of events where the club has used its trademarks, including the Brisbane chapter's An evening with the Queensland Orchestra at City Hall, as part of the theme night Pedal to the Metal.

Redbubble chief executive Martin Hosking said the allegedly offending material had been removed from the site. Hells Angels accepts this, but claims Redbubble made money off the sales and is seeking compensation, according to court documents.

"We have acted in a co-operative manner with the Hells Angels, as we do with other rights owners, and so we were surprised by their decision to file a legal claim," Mr Hosking said.

"We are confident that Redbubble will not be held in any way liable for any allegedly infringing conduct."

Earlier this year, Redbubble ran into trouble with the federal government for selling Anzac-themed clothing, including T-shirts that say: "Anzac Kin", "Anzac Descendant" and "Thank you Anzacs. Lest we forget April 25".

Hells Angels is perhaps better known for its appearances at Magistrates Courts for alleged violent acts and association with the drug trade – so much so that in 2013 the group was declared a criminal organisation by the Queensland government.

However, Hells Angels has a host of trademarks registered with Australian authorities, including use of the words Hells Angels.

Also registered is the Hells Angels' famed "death head" (3/4 view) which was originally designed in 1954 for the club's membership cards by an artist "known only as Sundown", according to court filings.

The design was updated in 1983 by a member of the clubs' San Francisco chapter, "Fuki", and updated again in 1994 by Australian Scott Eaton.

All three of these designs are registered to the Hells Angels in Australia, with the club having explicit permission from its American brethren to use the designs.

Apart from his artistic endeavours, Mr Eaton has also garnered some press after being called to give evidence at the coronial inquest into the death of Levi Griffiths in Darwin.

A spokeswoman for Hells Angel's legal team said only club members were allowed to wear the death head trademark.

"It has a heavily spiritual and emotional connection to them as part of a brotherhood where the death head is the representation of belonging," she said.

Other items, such as a the painted emu eggs, t-shirts, carvings and mugs were sold by the various chapters of the club as fundraising activities to "supporters" of the "not-for-profit organisation".

Hells Angel's intellectual property lawyer Dimitrious Eliats said he and his client had tried to mediate the dispute with Redbubble ahead of filing in the Federal Court and still hoped the matter could be settled, adding "we don't want to force anyone or have them fall on their sword or anything".

 - Sydney Morning Herald


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