Since moving to Brooklyn in 2012, the Nets have closely aligned their brand with that of Christopher Wallace, the rapper known as the Notorious B.I.G., who grew up a brisk walk from where Barclays Center was later built to host the N.B.A. But a special version of the team’s jersey, with a design inspired by Wallace, is at the center of a copyright violation lawsuit against the Nets, the N.B.A. and Nike filed by the clothing brand Coogi in Manhattan federal court Wednesday.
Before the season, the Nets debuted their new Nike-manufactured “City Edition” jerseys, which feature a multicolored striped pattern down the sides that the team called “Brooklyn Camo.” In marketing materials, the team said the jerseys were inspired by Wallace.
The “Brooklyn Camo” pattern bears a close resemblance to patterns Coogi has used in its clothing for years, and for which it claims to have over 300 design copyrights. Coogi, a New York-based brand, is also heavily associated with Wallace. The rapper was photographed in Coogi’s clothing, and he referred to the brand in at least two of his songs, including the hit “Hypnotize.”
Wallace never rapped about or wore “Brooklyn Camo,” Coogi says in its lawsuit, and the company claims that the jerseys copy its designs, specifically the “Pea Soup” and “Ricotta” patterns. The lawsuit also says one of the defendants purchased advertisements on Google searches for “Coogi Brooklyn Nets” and “Brooklyn Coogi” in order to direct people looking for genuine Coogi products to instead buy Nets merchandise.
In a statement to The New York Times, Mike Bass, the N.B.A.’s spokesman, said, “There is no merit whatsoever to their claims.”
The Nets and Nike declined to comment on the lawsuit.
None of the defendants have filed a response to Coogi’s claim. But attached to Coogi’s lawsuit are letters exchanged between Coogi’s legal counsel and an N.B.A. lawyer, which detail possible legal defenses for the league, team and Nike.
In a letter from November, Michael Potenza, the N.B.A.’s intellectual property counsel, wrote to a lawyer for Coogi that the league was “unaware of any design owned by your client to which the Brooklyn Camo is substantially similar.” Potenza explained why the case law on trademark infringement would make it difficult for Coogi to prove its claims, and said the Brooklyn Camo design did not confuse customers. He also said that the N.B.A. obtained consent from the estate of Wallace, who was killed in 1997, to use his name in association with the jersey.
In a later letter, Potenza wrote that the Brooklyn Camo design is not similar to Coogi’s designs for a number of reasons: brighter colors, narrower stripes that are horizontal instead vertical, and positioning only on the piping of the jersey, not across the entire top as in Coogi’s designs.
On Friday, the first 10,000 fans in attendance for the Nets game against the Charlotte Hornets will receive a Notorious B.I.G. bobblehead.