Intellectual Property specialists James & Wells are delighted at a Court of Appeal decision ordering Jeanswest Corporation (NZ) Limited to pay additional damages for infringing the copyright in client G-Star Raw’s iconic Elwood denim jean design.

The award of $50,000 plus interest is believed to be the most additional damages awarded by a New Zealand court in a civil case involving a breach of intellectual property rights. 

Dutch firm G-Star Raw and its Australasian distributor came to James & Wells when they discovered Jeanswest was selling the Dean Biker, a style of jeans that was copied from the G-Star Elwood design.  The G-Star Elwood design was inspired by how the rain had stretched out a motorcyclist’s trousers over his knees.   It has been sold since 1996, and it and its variants have become a signature product for G-Star with over 13 million pairs sold worldwide.

James & Wells partner, Ian Finch, says the significant award of additional damages may signal a shift in the seriousness with which deliberate copyright infringement is viewed by the courts and the public. “The award sends a message that it’s not ok to freeload on the creative efforts of copyright owners” he says.

A High Court decision in October 2013 found Jeanswest liable for secondary rather than primary infringement of G-Star’s copyright, ordered an injunction preventing further infringement and awarded G-Star general damages of $325, which is what JeansWest made from selling the copied jeans. 

“We cross-appealed because $325 didn’t take into account the negative effect a knock off product has on G-Star’s reputation and on its exclusivity” says Mr Finch, “It was important to us, and G-Star, that we send a message to the market that the practices employed by JeansWest (sending buyers out across the world to buy samples of other designers’ products which they then send to China to copy) will not be tolerated.”   

JeansWest was also criticised in the judgment for aspects of the way it defended G-Star’s claim and for its lack of an effective system to determine whether its importation of product into New Zealand breached our copyright laws.