Cruisin’ The Coast claims in a federal lawsuit that Ocean Springs gift shop Blessons on Washington Avenue is violating trademark and copyright laws by selling merchandise imprinted with the name of the 20-year-old classic car show.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, asks that Judge Sul Ozerden order the store to stop advertising and selling products bearing an identical or similar mark.
Cruisin’ wants the items, including pillows and etched glasses, impounded. Copyright infringement under federal law, the lawsuit says, allows Cruisin’ to collect profits from the merchandise, damages, attorney’s fees and costs.
Blessons owner Melanie Peters said Friday morning she was unaware using the Cruisin’ The Coast name could be a trademark violation. She removed the pillows in question from shelves, she said, after she learned about the lawsuit and talked to Cruisin’ representatives.
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“We will do whatever it takes to make this right,” she said. “I am a person of high integrity. This is an embarrassment and a wake-up call for me.”
She said someone from the Cruisin’ board visited the shop earlier this week and told a staff member a portion of profits from any merchandise bearing the show’s logo must be turned over to the organization, but Peters said Blessons is not using the logo.
“We did not realize that the words were trademarked or protected,” Peters said. “We sold merchandise last year. I know several other merchants downtown are selling merchandise with the words but not the logo.”
She said she understands other shops are selling T-shirts and ornaments.
She said she thought a lawsuit was “extreme.” Peters said etched glasses the shop sold last year were given away this year. Blessons has taken in about $200 from the pillows, Peters said, adding she would turn over profits to Cruisin’ if necessary.
“I have no intention of being in violation of anyone’s trademark,” she said. “I spent a lot of years in the corporate world. You don’t survive in the corporate world unless you follow the letter of the law and intention of the law.”
Peters said she lives in California now but came to Ocean Springs for the busy Cruisin’ weekend.
Cruisin’ The Coast registered more than 7,000 classic cars and trucks in 2015 and topped that record this year with 7,826 vehicles registered by Thursday. The week-long event, one of the largest classic car shows in the Southeast, ends Sunday.
Only one vendor, ET Motorgear, is licensed to use the Cruisin’ name, organization member Colleen Kershaw said. The Knoxville company sells Cruisin’ T-shirts and other merchandise during the event, and on its website.
The lawsuit against Blessons, filed by Henry Laird of Jones Walker in Gulfport, says: “The CRUISIN’ THE COAST mark has been widely advertised throughout the United States. The mark has become, through widespread and favorable public acceptance and recognition, an asset of substantial value as a symbol of Cruisin’ The Coast Inc., its event and its goodwill.”