Major motorcycle clubs have a well deserved reputation for jealously guarding their marks and slogans.
A distinguished attorney named Fritz Clapp, for example, has spent much of his past 20 years suing trademark pirates on behalf of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. Clapp calls himself a “lawyer from hell” and the club’s suits are so commonplace that they only make the papers on slow news days. For example, you may just now be learning that the red and white club sued a yoyo maker named Yomega and the mega-toy-store chain Toys ‘R’ Us a few weeks ago because the pair in combination were making and selling $15 yoyos that featured the big club’s death head logo.
A frequently repeated story states that Sonny Barger, who symbolizes the Angels as much as anything, got tired of seeing his club’s symbols ripped off, decided it was too much hassle to actually beat the crap out of corporations, so he hired Clapp to do the job for him, metaphorically, in courtrooms.
The Mongols Motorcycle Club, another well known fraternal organization, has never found its Fritz Clapp although the distinguished advocate George L. Steele sometimes argues in defense of their symbols. It is probably fair to say that the Mongols are a less well known global brand than the Angels so they are ripped off less frequently. And, when that smaller club is ripped off individual members are probably more inclined to simply reason with whomever stole from them.
There have been a couple of well known exceptions to that. An entrepreneur, author and convict named Ruben “Doc” Cavazos helped clarify trademark law for an army of government lawyers when he claimed ownership of the Mongols insignia and then gave it to the Department of Justice as part of his plea and sentencing agreement. Eventually, two federal judges ruled that the Mongols marks were not Cavazos’ to give away.
Cavazos, and the publisher HarperCollins, also had to call Doc’s memoir Honor Few, Fear None because the Mongols’ slogan “Respect Few Fear None” had already been registered by Cavazos’ club brother Mike Munz. The widely respected Munz is now doing a stretch in Victorville and it is debatable whether his claim to the phrase would hold up in court. Copyrights and trademarks are actually only advertisements of ownership and a federal judge would probably rule that the slogan actually belongs to the Mongols as a group.
Which raises the question of how both the Angels and the Mongols will eventually react to an entrepreneur named Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr., who pursues his ambitions as “Lil Wayne.” Carter is very ambitious. He describes himself as the “best rapper alive.” He enjoys fashion and skateboarding. And among his enterprises is a clothing brand called Trukfit.
In a press release, the artist declared: “My new line, Trukfit, in case you don’t know about Trukfit. Look it up. T-r-u-k-f-i-t. That’s my new clothing line. Trukfit, Truk the world. You’ll hear about it because it’ll be the best clothing line ever….” The rapping god further explained that in his home town of New Orleans counterfeit clothes sold out of cars are called “Trukfits.” And, at the launch party for his brand in New York last January 12 Lil Wayne announced that the “tagline” for his hats and shirts and shorts and so on is “Respect Few Fear None.” Obviously, no Mongols were on the invitation or contact lists.
At the time, Carter was wearing another of his products, a hat that announces he is one of the “Filthy Few.”