Pop Artist Romero Britto is looking to eliminate thousands of counterfeit items bearing his bright and colorful copyrighted designs from the Puerto Rico market through a federal civil lawsuit filed against nearly 200 local wholesalers and retailers for copyright and trademark infringement. In the complaint filed on Aug. 31, the artist seeks millions in damages.
The Brazilian-born artist’s legal representative is Dora Peñagarícano, one of the island’s foremost trademark attorneys and partner of the McConnell Valdes law firm.
She told News is my Business Tuesday that the seemingly uncontrollable proliferation of fake purses, wallets, mugs, umbrellas and clothing has caused “irreparable damage” to the Britto brand.
The defendants’ list included in the 44-page lawsuit names distributors, wholesalers, retailers, small retailers and several flea market owners who are also being sued for unfair competition. The complaint seeks a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction and a permanent injunction against the defendants. The court granted the temporary restraining order and a hearing will be held Thursday at the U.S. District Court in Hato Rey to decide if such order is converted into a preliminary injunction.
In addition to the temporary restraining order, the court also granted a requested seizure order, which authorized U.S. Marshals to confiscate nearly 21,000 counterfeit Britto pieces last weekend, said Peñagarícano.
“The idea is to remove as many of the counterfeit items as possible from the market, leaving only the originals,” Peñagarícano said. “But even if all fakes are removed from the stores, since so many people bought fake items, almost no one is now buying the originals. It will take some time for Britto to regain his goodwill here.”
The counterfeit products are sold at between $5 and $50, significantly less than what the original pieces go for.
License violations abound
In the lawsuit, Britto claimed the defendants did not obtain “authorization, license or any other consent to use, reproduce, copy, print, distribute, make derivative works from, publicly exhibit, nor sell copies of the Britto products,” which are copyrighted works licensed exclusively by Britto Central Inc. and Art 800 LLC, both based in Miami, to Giftcraft, Ltd. in Canada.
This company, Giftcraft, is the one that holds the rights to merchandise and distribute Britto’s artworks in a variety of products, such as tote bags, purses, wallets, key chains, baggage tags, pet accessories, umbrellas, jewelry and stationary, among others. The counterfeits are made in China, the attorney said.
Although Britto is asking for a trial by jury, it is likely that all claims will be settled out of court, as so far, many of the defendants accepted they were selling fakes upon being notified of the lawsuit.
While the artist is entitled by the copyright law to receive $150,000 per violation — for each counterfeit item — the reality is that he will probably receive a fraction of the damages suffered.
“Notwithstanding the seizures of close to 21,000 items, the real number of items out there could be three or four times that,” Peñagarícano said. “However, Britto does not have this problem anywhere else, just in the Puerto Rico market.”
The ubiquitous presence of the hard-to-miss design has been the butt of countless jokes, especially across social media websites. Facebook has a “Say no to Britto purses” group with more than 600 followers who constantly express their disdain toward the brand by posting comments and pictures of people carrying or wearing presumably fake items.
The latest addition to the anti-Britto movement was the picture circulated after Monday night’s Miss Universe pageant showing Miss Puerto Rico, Viviana Ortíz, “wearing” a Photoshopped Britto-inspired dress and purse.