American boxing celebrity Mike Tyson is suing Australian streetwear retailer Culture Kings and its owners for allegedly using his imagery to sell clothing without permission.
The former world champion boxer filed a statement of claim in the NSW Federal Court last Friday, alleging Culture Kings printed his name and image on a range of clothing, giving the impression it was a sponsored arrangement, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.
However, Tyson never gave Culture Kings permission to use his image, and he has owned the name Mike Tyson as an international trademark for more than 10 years.
The garments in question include T-shirts with the text ‘Mike Tyson’ and ‘Iron Mike Tyson’ printed over images of the celebrity boxing and holding green bank notes.
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Tyson’s court filings allege Culture Kings’ use of his likeness demonstrates that the retailer engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct under Australian Consumer Law, and made false and misleading representations.
Ben Hamilton, partner at the law firm Hall & Wilcox and an expert in consumer law, says the dispute shows businesses carry significant risk when printing the images of celebrities on their products.
“When it comes to using imagery associated with famous people without permission, it’s fair to say that carries significant risk,” Hamilton tells SmartCompany.
“There are celebrities and other well-known figures who protect their imagery and their endorsement rights.”
Hamilton says Mike Tyson’s lawyers may also argue the tort of passing off. This means Tyson could claim the presence of his name and images on shirts have misled consumers into assuming he has approved of these items of clothing.
“Courts recognise that celebrities and well-known famous people licence their images, and this is a source of revenue,” he says.
“Mike Tyson’s lawyers will probably argue that it’s Mike Tyson’s commercial right to endorse, licence or approve merchandise.”
This dispute is not the first time Culture Kings has faced legal action for using the images of public figures on its clothing.
In October last year, Nathan Apodaca reportedly sued Culture Kings for using his image on shirts without permission. Apodaca became a TikTok sensation after videos he posted of himself skating and singing Fleetwood Mac songs went viral.
Culture King’s owners, Simon and Tah-nee Beard, opened their first store on the Gold Coast in 2008. Within 13 years, the couple have significantly grown their streetwear empire and now have eight stores in Australia.
The Beards made their debut on the AFR Rich List this year, ranking 186 out of 200 with combined wealth of $626 million.
SmartCompany contacted Culture Kings for comment.
This article was updated at 3:25pm June 10.