Supermarket chain Aldi, which is known for selling in-house products comparable to well-known brands, has been accused of ripping off Aussie children's snack food brand Little Bellies.
In a case that's set to test copyright laws in Australia, Little Bellies owner Hampden Holdings hopes the suit will accomplish what other brands have failed to do through trademark breach lawsuits against Aldi in the past.
Hampden Holdings owns the intellectual property for the range that includes Baby Bellies, and claims Aldi has copied its fruit and vegetable puffed corn snacks, namely the Organic Blueberry Puffs, Organic Apple & Cinnamon Puffs, and Organic Carrot Puffs.
The case will likely be an uphill battle for the Aussie company, if previous lawsuits are anything to go by. Popular US snack brand Frito Lay and Israeli beauty company Moroccanoil sued Aldi for trademark infringements in 2001 and 2015 respectively, for releasing products akin to their own, only to lose the fight to the German retailer.
'The critical issue is copying'
Hampden Holdings licenses the brands to Every Bite Counts, according to a report by the Australian Financial Review. "As a copyright case against Aldi, the case is novel in Australia. The critical issue is copying. There is no comparison of trademarks," Gestalt Law principal Lance Scott said in the AFR report, adding that his client Every Bite Counts would like to protect its "valuable intellectual property" which it has invested heavily on.
IP legal expert Katrina Rathie, who has worked on such cases for Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) companies globally, opined that the lawsuit appears to be more about getting Aldi to change its packaging and gain a settlement.
"The test for copyright in Australia is a qualitative test, not quantitative," Rathie said. "Has Aldi reproduced a substantial part of the artwork, the essential creative elements and infringed the artistic work? You can't look at colour for copyright."
More copycat accusations against Aldi
Last month, British multinational retailer Marks & Spencer successfully sued Aldi for copyright infringement in the UK over their popular light-up gin liqueur bottle released in the lead-up to Christmas 2020. Marks & Spencer sued Aldi after the budget supermarket released The Infusionist Small Batch Gin the next year, which followed the British retailer's product design. The lawsuit ran for more than a year and got closure in February after the High Court in London ruled Aldi infringed Marks & Spencer's design.
Marks & Spencer had also gone after Aldi over the copyright of a popular caterpillar cake in 2021, which ended up in a confidential settlement between both parties in February last year.
But while big retailers can afford to go after the German retail chain, small business owners who believe their intellectual property has been violated are left with very few options, such as a Byron Bay local who last year claimed Aldi had released a picnic rug that copied her design.
Aldi denies copyright infringement
According to the statement of claim, Aldi knew or ought to have reasonably known that the owner of the copyright in Every Bite Counts' Baby Bellies had not licensed the reproduction of any of the works on the packaging.
"The respondent did not obtain (or seek) a license to reproduce the Blueberry Puffs Work, the Apple and Cinnamon Puffs Work, or the Carrot Puffs Work (or a substantial part thereof) for use on the packaging of the respondent's Blueberry Puffs Product," the statement of claim reads.
Aldi acknowledged that the packaging for its products was made without a license and that they did not seek one, but denied copyright infringement. It has also launched a cross-claim alleging it is "a person aggrieved within the meaning of ... the Copyright Act".
Aldi has declined to provide Yahoo News Australia with a comment on the basis that this is an active legal case.
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