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Appeals court upholds $2.4 million ruling in Bob Marley coffee case

By | Published on Friday 11 January 2019

Bob Marley

An appeals court in the US has upheld an earlier ruling in a trademark dispute between the Bob Marley estate and a coffee company that previously had the rights to sell bean-based beverages using the legendary musician’s name. As a result Jammin Java Corp will have to pay the Marley family $2.4 million in damages.

The coffee making business, which at one time involved Marley’s son Rhohan, did originally have a licence from Fifty-Six Hope Road Music and Hope Road Merchandising – two companies controlled by the Marley family – which allowed it to make and sell a coffee product that utilised the late musician’s name and trademark.

However, the two sides in the venture subsequently fell out, initially over unpaid royalties and allegations that the coffee firm was unlawfully sub-licensing the Marley brand to third parties. Things then escalated when Jammin Java continued to sell its Marley coffee product even once its licences had expired.

The Marley companies sued in 2016, winning via summary judgement and subsequently being awarded $2.4 million in damages. Jammin Java then appealed that ruling. It argued that the court had not properly considered the fact its contract with the Marley companies had been amended by oral agreement, adding that such oral agreements had standing under Californian law even when a contract said it couldn’t be modified in this way.

According to Law360, although the appeals court did agree with some of Jammin Java’s legal arguments on that point, the judges then said that there were other breaches of the contract not affected by any oral agreements, so the lower court ruling regarding breach of contract was still sound. They then rejected a bunch of other arguments presented in the coffee firm’s appeal papers.

Welcoming the latest ruling, a leg rep for the Marley family told Law360 that her clients were “pleased with the results of today’s decision and grateful to the court of appeals for its time and effort”.