Roberto Clemente’s family sues Puerto Rico gov’t for $45M
The family of Puerto Rico’s baseball legend Roberto Clemente has filed a lawsuit in the local US District Court against several commonwealth government officials claiming $45 million in copyright infringement damages.
Earlier this year, the government unveiled a vehicle registration sticker and commemorative license plate bearing Clemente’s image, which his sons and their companies claim was done without their authorization.
Clemente’s sons — Roberto Clemente Jr., Luis Roberto Clemente, and Roberto Enrique Clemente — as well as two of their companies, Clemente Properties Inc. and 21 In Right Inc, are listed as the defendants in the case against Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, Department of Transportation and Public Works, Secretary Eileen Vega, Puerto Rico Treasury Secretary Francisco Parés, Department of Sports and Recreation Secretary Ray Quiñones, and the Puerto Rico Convention District Authority.
The license plate — that has an image of Roberto Clemente and includes the name “Clemente” with the number “21,” the number “50” the word “anniversary,” and the phrase “3000 hits” — carries a $21 fee.
The cost charged to drivers is transferred to the Roberto Clemente Sports District Fund, administered by the Treasury Department, for the exclusive use of the Department of Sports and Recreation.
The registration sticker, which also bears his likeness, carries a mandatory charge of $5 in addition to the regular cost of the annual obligation, which are also destined to the Roberto Clemente Sports District.
The government has said it expects to collect $15 million from both special items this year that will go to that fund, which Clemente’s sons say “constitutes false advertising because it implies that the funds would go to the plaintiffs, owners of the Roberto Clemente mark. It is also a use of the mark.”
“None of the above was authorized by the plaintiffs. Nor are the plaintiffs involved in any way with these actions of the defendants,” the Clementes claim in the lawsuit. “However, because it is common knowledge that the plaintiffs are the owners of the Roberto Clemente mark, his right of publicity, his likeness and the legacy it represents, the people of Puerto Rico necessarily inferred that the plaintiffs are recipients of some economic benefit from the scheme that was devised by the Puerto Rico Legislative Assembly and implemented by the defendants.”
They blast the government for “using the Roberto Clemente trademark as a subterfuge to collect money from the people.”
The plaintiffs said the use of the Roberto Clemente trademark to shore up money for the government earned them the disdain of people across social media and television.
“The people righteously rejected the imposition of a charge for the use of the Roberto Clemente mark and likeness in the license plates and vehicle certification tags, in times when our economy is suffering and the cost of living in Puerto Rico increases every day,” they said in the lawsuit, adding that “the defendants acted willfully, intentionally and fully aware about the mark misappropriation.”
Prior to filing the federal lawsuit Luis Roberto Clemente made several public appearances, sent letters, and held meetings with the executive branch explaining the ownership of the trademark, the misappropriation, and the unauthorized use.
In March, the government was notified through the Puerto Rico Justice Department about the infringement of the Roberto Clemente trademark, the lawsuit states.
Heirs balk at Roberto Clemente Sports District
In the lawsuit, the Clemente brothers, and their companies also cried foul over the creation of the Roberto Clemente Sports district last month, through Act 67 of 2022.
The law transfers to the goverment all the land donated to the Ciudad Deportiva Roberto Clemente Inc., to be developed as a sports and recreational facility. The Convention District Authority will be responsible for the planning and organization of the Roberto Clemente Sports District, which includes the development, reconstruction, and construction of facilities.
The law also allows leasing and sub-leasing the land, under the Department of Sports and Recreation, which will use the money to develop and maintain the facilities.
All the activities that the law allows the government to carry out with the facilities bearing the Roberto Clemente name are illegal, according to the lawsuit.
“The use of the Roberto Clemente mark as a distinctive and famous mark regarding sports and social justice is the pilar of such an ambitious project. Without it, the possibility of development, private investment and general success is miniscule,” the lawsuit states.
“It is hard to imagine a more appalling use of the Roberto Clemente mark,” the plaintiffs added. “The governmental scheme described herein, uses the Roberto Clemente mark to create the necessary wealth to deprive Ciudad Deportiva Roberto Clemente Inc. of its property and develop it, also using his mark.”
The attorneys for the Clementes are asking the court to enter a Declaratory Judgment confirming that the use of the trademark is illegal.