Italian luxury fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have been caught in a fresh legal bind, this time over their brand’s t-shirts sold by American fashion retailer Nordstrom, also a defendant. The shirts, which were priced at up to $295 apiece, have since been removed from sale on Nordstrom’s website. Actor Peter Fonda is suing for at least $6 million in compensation, claiming that the iconic images of himself in the classic 1969 film, “Easy Rider”, were used without his permission. Movie stills of Fonda on a motorcycle and the movie’s title in its original font are emblazoned on the t-shirts.
Fonda not only co-starred in ‘Easy Rider’ but co-wrote and produced the movie as well, and stated in the suit that he has “suffered injuries to his peace, happiness, feelings, goodwill, reputation, image, loss of fair market values of his services and dilution of his current and future publicity value” due to the illegal usage of his name and images on the merchandise. Although no comment has been obtained as yet from Dolce & Gabbana, Nordstrom has acknowledged it is “aware of the suit and are reaching out to our vendor to determine the next steps.” Whatever the damages the retailer may be forced to pay, the damage to Dolce & Gabbana’s business reputation may be no small thing either.
Although the designers have long been a fixture of Italian high fashion with an internationally famed brand name, in recent years the designing pair has been in the news for tax related legal disputes. Finally this June, Dolce and Gabbana were convicted of tax evasion in an Italian court, although under Italian law their jail sentencing time is too short to require actually going to prison and instead would result in house arrest or community service. The designers have denied the charges, and their lawyer has stated they will appeal. However, as the case has not escaped negative public attention, and in response to what the designers called “attacks from public ministers” and “media pillory”, they closed their Milan store for three days starting last Friday. The store window displayed the phrase “Closed for Indignation”.
However, this current case involving the ‘Easy Rider’ t-shirts seems to be a question of copyright infringement, the commercial use of images that are not in the public domain but are culturally significant and highly recognizable.
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