The billionaire businessman and easyJet founder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, is taking legal action against Netflix over its comedy series Easy, claiming its use of the name breaches his company’s European trademarks.
In the latest crackdown on what he claims are growing numbers of “brand thieves” seeking to “piggyback” off his easyGroup business, Haji-Ioannou is seeking a high court injunction to prevent the $166bn (£127bn) US streaming company from using the programme name in Europe.
Joe Swanberg’s comedy-drama anthology series is billed as an “eclectic, star-studded anthology [which] follows diverse Chicagoans fumbling through the modern maze of love, sex, technology and culture”. Launched on Netflix in September 2016 and due for its third and final season in 2019, its ensemble cast includes Orlando Bloom and Emily Ratajkowski
EasyGroup has a strict policy of taking legal action to protect its licensees, including easyJet, the low-cost airline, and which use its striking orange branding.
A spokesman for easyGroup said it would start legal proceedings at the beginning of the week, confirming a story first reported by the Sunday Times. He added: “EasyGroup now owns more than 1,000 registered trademarks within the easy family of brands all over the world and takes its protection from unauthorised use very seriously.”
Netflix said in a statement that “viewers can tell the difference between a show they watch and a plane they fly in”.
EasyGroup receives a steady income from licensing the brand to many businesses – including the airline – in return for a royalty based on their turnover.
These include: easyHotel, which was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2014, easyBus, easyCar, easyVan, easyProperty, easyOffice, easyFoodstore, easyCoffee and easyGym.
It warns on its website of “brand thieves” whereby “some people think they can make a fast buck by stealing our name and our reputation. They set up websites and companies using the name ‘easy’ (or phonetic versions of it) which can either pay a passing resemblance to an easyGroup company or be a direct copy.”
Haji-Ioannou said: “This is a case of typically arrogant behaviour by a very large American tech company who never bothered to check what legal rights other companies have outside the US.
“When Joe Swanberg came up with the name ‘easy’ for his new TV series a couple of years ago they should have checked with their European lawyers before using it. We own the European trademark in the word easy and another thousand trademarks with easy as a prefix and we can’t allow people to use it now as a brand name, especially when they are doing it mostly with our colours and font.
“At least I am pleased that Netflix have said that they will stop at series three anyway. However, we have to stop them from promoting the older series in Europe for online streaming.”