Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Dutch Bike Wars

A couple of days ago I received a message from Muna Whitfield, owner of A Black Bike in New York City, informing me of her company's lawsuit against Club Monaco and Royal Gazelle for unfair business practices. The allegation is that the well-known Club Monaco campaign picturing two happy ladies riding a Dutch bike, featured a Black Bike bicycle while representing it as a Gazelle bicycle.

[Club Monaco advert, Spring 2009. Image via BikeRumor]

Here is an excerpt from an article describing the lawsuit:
A Black Bike, Inc., a small scale bicycle distributor based in Brooklyn, New York, filed a lawsuit in federal court today against the clothing and accessories retailer Club Monaco, Inc., and Koninklijke Gazelle, alleging false advertising, unfair competition, deceptive acts and practices, and trademark and copyright infringement. The complaint alleges that Club Monaco, a subsidiary of Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation, used images of A Black Bike's bicycles as the centerpiece of its Spring 2009 advertising campaign, without A Black Bike's authorization, and while publicly representing that the images were instead bicycles manufactured by the Dutch bicycle company Koninklijke Gazelle.

... In January of 2009, following the upswing of A Black Bike's publicity, the complaint alleges that Club Monaco purchased a bicycle from A Black Bike and discussed a national advertising campaign that would feature A Black Bike's bicycles. Although a deal was never reached, ... the complaint alleges that the A Black Bike bicycle was prominently featured in Club Monaco's Spring 2009 advertising campaign, without A Black Bike's authorization. Furthermore, instead of crediting A Black Bike, the complaint alleges that Club Monaco confused consumers by falsely representing that the bike in the campaign was a "Gazelle," manufactured by the Dutch company, Koninklijke Gazelle, a competitor of A Black Bike.

... Following these events, A Black Bike suffered a large drop in sales due to Gazelle's benefit from the advertising campaign in the U.S. market.

The complaint was filed in federal district court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, by A Black Bike's attorneys at Shlansky & Co., LLP. The case is docket number 10CV893.
In their recent post about the lawsuit, Bike Rumor features pictures of a Gazelle and a Black Bike side by side and states that "the only difference between the bikes appears to be the decal and logo placements" and that "the key discrepancy seems to be the logo on the [headbadge]". They go on to note that the logos and headbadge in the Club Monaco advert appear to resemble those of A Black Bike rather than those of Gazelle.

[Gazelle Toer Populair bicycles in Club Monaco, Boston. Image by Lovely Bicycle]

After examining images of both bicycles, I notice an additional difference that no one has mentioned: the fork crown. Gazelle bicycles have a chromed, flat-top fork crown, like the ones in the photo above.

[A Black Bicycle bicycle. Image via Bike Rumor]

A Black Bicycle bikes, on the other hand, have unicrown forks, as pictured above. If you look at the Club Monaco ad again, the bicycle pictured clearly has a unicrown fork like A Black Bicycle and not a chromed, flat-top-crown fork like Gazelle.

I hope the lawsuit is settled fairly.

24 comments:

  1. I suppose this is a promising sign of a growing bicycle market, but it seems a little sad.

    ReplyDelete
  2. i noticed another key difference: the A Black Bike drivetrain is on the left-hand side, a truly unique departure from convention. since the bike in the ad clearly has the more traditional right-hand side drivetrain, there is no case against A Black Bike.

    honestly, bike rumor should have known not horizontally flip a bike photo given the asymmetry of bike drivetrains.

    ReplyDelete
  3. : )

    To be fair, I think Bike Rumor got the image from an ELLE Decor article, so ELLE is responsible for flipping it. Judging by this and the Clarins Skincare ad, I think the fashion world simply doesn't realise that this is a no-no.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I had a black bike first. I'm going to intervene.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wow, never would have thought that such things happen.

    ReplyDelete
  6. You know, I always thought the ad looked different from Gazelle and couldn't figure out in which way. This so makes sense, in hind sight. I can't believe no one caught using the wrong bike manufacturer in the photo shoot. That's crazy. I bet it was a mistake.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Received the email and press release from Muna at A Black Bike as well. I made corrections pronto to my posts on RidingPretty mentioning Club Monaco. Now that I've found your post Velouria, I'm glad I made a snap judgment on the side on A Black Bicycle. Your post confirms this.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Weird situation. You'd think a company wouldn't let something like that slip through the cracks.

    ReplyDelete
  9. MDI - We did both notice from the very beginning that the Gazelle bikes being sold at Club Monaco looked different from the bike pictured in the ad. But I attributed this to a difference in component packages, like the rod brakes vs coaster and the gear shifter vs single speed. It never even occurred to me that it could be a different bike altogether, and I did not notice the fork crown and headbadge difference at the time.

    ReplyDelete
  10. It really looks like "A Black Bike" bikes are actualy made by Azor, which sells frames and complete bikes to many brands in Europe and elsewhere.
    (ie Cyrus, Amsterdamer - in France, WorkCycle ...)

    ReplyDelete
  11. what i find rather humorous about the whole fiasco is that at the end of the day, the quibble revolves around brand distinctions over essentially identical bikes. it brings up issues of how wrapped up consumers get over branding, and the power of branding, *especially* within the fashion industry. it would be a little more plausible in my mind if the the whole debacle were over some innovation or proprietary feature, but that's not the case-- it's over pure branding.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I think Philippe is right based on certain details: Azor makes the Black Bikes: http://clevercycles.com/2009/11/26/who-rides-a-workcycles-city-bike/#comment-337777

    ReplyDelete
  13. somervillain - I can't agree with that, and I think it is unfair to minimise the issue to a "quibble". Azor, Gazelle and Batavus bicycles are similar in their overall style but have significant differences. The fork alone is a major difference as far as bike design goes, and you of all people know that. I am not privy to the full story of the A Black Bike vs Club Monaco case, but if the latter did indeed use images of the former to sell Gazelles, it is a serious matter.

    ReplyDelete
  14. velouria, i think it's a serious matter only in that copyrights may have been violated, and if that's indeed the case i think it is worth litigating over. but it's a different matter when damages are sought, because it's difficult to prove lost sales as a direct (or indirect) consequence of misuse of their bike in the ad, and in my opinion their claim as such is tenuous at best. a more plausible explanation for the lost sales is simply that the ad was effective (regardless of whose virtually identical bike was featured in it), and they lost market share due to competition.

    and i think that claiming the differences between the bikes as "significant" is subjective: the typical buyer of this type of fashion bike is not likely to notice differences in fork rake or other subtle differences. to the target buyer, the two bikes are virtually identical. one could even argue that the brand "A Black Bike" itself pays homage to the generic, ubiquitous style of the classic dutch bikes, and shoehorns their bike into an immediately recognizable and familiar category of bike, whose iconic appearance they want the target buyer to conjure. but at the end of the day, it's the same bike being marketed by countless different distributors. do you think A Black Bike is trying to say their bikes are distinct from all the others and that distinction has been lost because of the ad mishap? or is it just a matter of copyright infringement. i.e., are there real damages here or is it just academic?

    ReplyDelete
  15. Insightful post, and excellent investigation that you've done.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I wonder whether A Black Bike is in fact a licensee of the Amsterdam bike seller Zwarte Fietsenplan (zwarte = black, fietsen = bikes but I suppose you all know that already). They have 5 shops in Amsterdam and sell bikes from a number of brands, one of which is their Special, made by "Special Ltd.", an entirely nondescript brand name. Its specification is identical to Azor's as are the pictures. The Oma bike is the Azor Oma, and they also offer the Cross Frame as found on WorkCycle's website, Azor sourced. Prices are roughly the same as with other sellers.

    The Zwarte Fietsenplan originated as a project of two students who rented out city bikes. This developed into a "normal" shop but they still do a lot of rental business.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Frits B - A Black Bike's website mentions nothing about that, though this in itself does not mean it is not so.

    somervillain - Do you think we would even be having this debate if, say, a Saab commercial used a VW in a popular ad? I bet the average target consumer would not be able to tell the difference either if the car was shot from certain angles.

    Furthermore, using the Black Bike in the add suggests certain features that in fact are not available on Club Monaco's bike: namely, a coaster brake. The bike in the add is clearly a coasterbrake bike (no cables or brake levers). The Gazelle sold by Club Monaco is a Toer Populair, available only with rod brakes.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Fascinating story, thanks for sharing! Haven't heard of A Black Bike before.

    It was a mistake, right?

    Since Americans tend to be quite brand conscious and North America is set to see a bike boom, it does seem like an important battle. Though I sympathize with Club Monaco as they tried something new and risky: selling bicycles in a new retail environment.

    I find myself more and more curious about bike company strategies as they grow in the U.S. market.

    Had no intention of becoming a bicycle connoisseur myself. I just want to see bike-friendly cities and people on bikes.

    Rumble, rumble!

    ReplyDelete
  19. I think it's funny that A Black Bicycle is complaining about misattribution in respect of a bike they copied from top to bottom. The fact is, the bike pictured in the Club Monaco ads IS a Gazelle - except manufactured in China and stolen from the Dutch!

    ReplyDelete
  20. I hope black bike wins..go girl

    ReplyDelete
  21. I only found this blog today. Good work and I love the fact that you spotted the difference in the forks

    ReplyDelete
  22. Anon 12:15 - As far as I know, Gazelle bicycles are now also manufactured in China (since 2007 or so).

    ReplyDelete
  23. Nice thread and posts. I've been in the graphic design business many years but I may not have paid attention to the flipping problem of the drivetrain until after the fact. So I can see how someone with little or no bicycle know-how could do it. Attention to detail is part of the job but you often have other people directing what to do, also.

    ReplyDelete