Lawsuit against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar withdrawn
Black Fives Inc., owners of trademarked logos commemorating vintage African American basketball teams, has withdrawn a federal lawsuit accusing the film company headed by Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of trademark infringement in connection with his recent documentary, "On the Shoulders of Giants," according to court records.
Even though Black Fives withdrew the lawsuit without prejudice on July 28, nearly four months after filing the case, owner Claude Johnson stated in an email that the decision stemmed from financial concerns over a lengthy court case. He kept open the possibility that the organization would refile the complaint, stressing that the "matter is not 'settled.'"
On behalf of Abdul-Jabbar's film company, Union Productions, business manager Deborah Morales issued a strongly worded statement to The Times that condemned the lawsuit and questioned the validity behind it.
"Mr. Johnson of The Black Fives has sadly and unjustly slandered one of the worlds most beloved basketball players who was one of the executive producers on the documentary On the Shoulders of Giants - the story of the greatest basketball team you have never heard of which was made to honor the great black athletes of the 1920's and 1930's as well as provide a classroom teaching tool to students across America," the statement read. "Unfortunately, Mr. Johnson has done nothing more than air his frustration over his lack of a viable legal position. Mr. Johnson never served his claim upon Union/OSG, LLC therefore rendering his claim invalid ... He voluntarily dismissed his claim, which we believe was dismissed because it was without merit or basis."
According to an article on the company's website, there were various alleged incidents that prompted Black Fives to file a lawsuit. It stated that the company didn't grant Abdul-Jabbar's film company use of a copyrighted photograph of John Isaacs posing in 2003 wearing Black Fives Inc.'s New York Rens gear, that Abdul-Jabbar and his film company never requested permission to use images, that Black Fives sent a "cease and desist" letter in 2008 asking the film company to stop using the trademark, and that efforts to reach a compensation agreement were ignored. Morales has maintained that Union Productions made sure "everything was cleared legally and properly."
"Our goal was never to recover damages but rather to demonstrate our vigilance in protecting, maintaining, and advocating for our [intellectual property] rights," Johnson wrote in a statement. "This need not happen exclusively through the courts, and might be accomplished just as effectively through publicity and other forms of public advocacy. That's the path we've opted to take at this time -- while still remaining open and optimistic -- though we genuinely regret having had to "out" Mr. Abdul-Jabbar's bad faith business practices and "trademark bullying" in the process. It should be noted that we hope our publicizing of this matter will help give other parties negatively affected by the bad faith and bullying conduct of Mr. Abdul-Jabbar and Ms. Morales the courage and opportunity to speak out."
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Boston Celtics' Robert Parrish in a Dec. 11, 1987, matchup. Credit: Carol Francavilla / Associated Press