The family of one of New Zealand's most famous All Blacks is to take legal advice over how to protect his legacy and name from "disrespectful" merchandise after it was used for a range of jerseys being sold in the UK.
The grandson of George Nepia confirmed the move after being alerted by the Herald on Sunday to the sale of unlicensed retro replica All Black jerseys based on the one that the legendary fullback wore during the famous 1924-25 Invincibles tour.
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The jersey – produced by UK-based The Rugby Company – was called "The Nepia", had the No 15 on the back, and embroidery "commemorating the player's signature characteristics".
The Rugby Company said in marketing material its new range of "vintage jerseys are inspired by true rugby legends". Launched on October 3, "The Nepia" and another based on a retro Wallabies jersey were removed from sale on the producer's website last week; because of "production issues" the company said. Rugby officials said the company contracted to oversee licensed apparel for Rugby Australia and New Zealand Rugby had contacted the UK firm.
Nepia's Wellington-based grandson, also named George Nepia, said he was appalled the jersey had been named after his famous relative and now was the time for his family to protect the rugby great's name from unapproved commercial ventures.
That would include an initial discussion with New Zealand Rugby over the family's rights and if they could offer to trademark the George Nepia name; a move that would protect itfrom further unauthorised use.
"It is one of the things that we have to be looking at, protecting [my grandfather's name]," Nepia said.
"I never thought it would become an issue but it obviously is now. I was thinking about it a few years ago but thought, 'No one would be silly enough to do anything like this'. But it [seeking legal advice] needs to be done and I will be talking about that with the family."
The rugby great's grandson said he was "gobsmacked" about the release of "The Nepia". The jersey is part of a range of nine $310 retro international replicas released this month, each named after a rugby legend and featuring their playing number and embroidered information on them.
George Nepia said he was "pretty disappointed" that a company would try to use his grandfather's name to make a profit without consulting his family.
"It is pretty bad," he said. "It is weird and quite disrespectful to my grandfather and to his family. It is not very cool.
The family's push to potentially trademark the George Nepia name was backed by Paul Johns, head of dispute resolution at Baldwins Intellectual Property.
Johns, who specialises in intellectual property and consumer protection, said no trademarks are registered in New Zealand under the name "George Nepia".
"If I was them I would apply as soon as possible to register his name and make the same application in the UK."
But the Rugby Company's use of the rugby great's name despite no consultation with his family did not breach any rules as no trademark existed, he said.
"As long as they haven't been misleading people into thinking that they have some authority from the Nepia family, the All Blacks or New Zealand Rugby, then probably not," he said.
"If they are just using a famous dead person's name then that doesn't seem to be on its own unlawful."
NZ Rugby said they were made aware of the jerseys on Monday by the Australian-based company that looks after licensed apparel for the sporting body.
The company also handles licensed gear for the Australian Rugby Union, who the Herald understands were upset The Rugby Company was selling a Wallabies retro replica under the name of former Wallaby captain Nicholas Shehadie.
That jersey, which was also taken off the market last week, featured Australia's Commonwealth Coat of Arms, which is heavily protected under copyright laws. That includes a ban on importing to Australia any unlicensed goods that feature it.
A NZ Rugby spokesperson said the company had told the UK-based jersey producers to remove the Wallabies retro replica and then told them it would be a wise for them to seek permission from Kiwi rugby bosses to sell the All Black replica.
The spokesperson said NZ Rugby had made no direct contact with The Rugby Company.
Jeremy Moore, from The Rugby Company, said they had removed the items due to "a couple of production issues".
He said the company was now "attempting to contact" the Nepia family, adding they had not fielded any direct approach from New Zealand Rugby or adidas - the sporting body's official gear provider - but "we are in discussions at present about a number of opportunities".