A Central District of California judge has ruled that coffee company Jammin Java Corporation (JJC) – which marketed and sold ‘Marley-branded’ coffee – must pay family members of the late reggae artist Bob Marley approximately US$2.8 million in trademark infringement damages and unpaid licensing royalties.
The ruling is the latest development in a fraught relationship between the Marley family and the coffee company since the inception of their business dealings in 2012.
Law firm Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP said court filings indicate that the idea for the Marley-branded coffee beans was the ‘brain child’ of one of Marley’s sons, Rohan Marley, who until recently was a shareholder in and on the board of directors of JJC and is described as a ‘non-managerial part-owner’ in the Marley companies.
The court documents detail an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) into an illegal ‘pump and dump’ scheme involving JJC shares in which it was disclosed that the JJC venture was launched after a chance meeting between Rohan and JJC’s former CEO in Los Angeles.
The court filings detail a royalty payment structure and reporting obligations under a licence agreement, which the Marley companies alleged JJC was in breach of almost from the time the first license agreement was signed.
The Marley companies terminated the long-term license agreement in June 2016 but ‘bent over backwards’ to give JJC another chance by simultaneously entering into a short-term six-month agreement. The Marley companies alleged that JJC quickly defaulted under the second agreement, as it had on the first, and it was terminated. In addition, the Marley companies became aware that JJC had allegedly sublicensed the Marley trademarks in violation of the second licence agreement and continued to improperly use the Marley Trademarks after the second licence agreement was terminated.
The Marley companies sued JJC in August 2016 alleging, among other things, trademark infringement, non-payment of royalties and breach of contract, and much complicated legal wrangling ensued. Finally, on 30 May 2017, Judge Stephen V Wilson ordered JJC to pay the Marley companies damages.