When you think Gymkhana you think Ken Block. Other people may do variations, and there's that horse thing, but Ken Block = Gymkhana and his videos, which have been viewed more than 160 million times on YouTube, are the public face of the sport. Therefore you might be surprised to discover Block doesn't own Gymkhana.com, Mad Media does.
Jalopnik has exclusively learned that Ken Block and his company Gravel Farms Racing, LLC, filed a lawsuit on Friday alleging that Mad Media — the company that co-produced and directed the first three Gymkhana videos — has been trying to profit unethically from Gymkhana despite having nothing to do with the concept.
The lawsuit stems from the creation of Gymkhana.com, which focuses on rally, drift, and general car news. It features advertisements and includes links to Ken Block-related content, although it also carries the legal disclaimer "DISCLAIMER: This gymkhana.com website does not originate from, is not affiliated, connected, or associated with, and is not sponsored or approved by Ken Block or DC Shoes." at the bottom of the page.
According to the lawsuit, which Jalopnik has exclusively obtained, Ken Block and his lawyers are alleging that Mad Media has profited from Gymkhana despite having nothing to do with the creation other than "recording of the GYMKHANA videos."
Specifically, the lawsuit says:
"By registering and using the domain name GYMKHANA.COM, Mad Media breached its contractual obligations to Plaintiffs to refrain from using the knowledge it gained from its contractual relationship with Plaintiffs to misappropriate, interfere with, or profit from opportunities and property in the GYMKHANA brand."
Block and company are asking for a judge to rule that Mad Media violated their contracts, force Mad Media to stop using the Gymkhana.com domain and transfer it to Block, as well as pony up cash for damages and compensate Block for the money made using Gymkhana.
This is the second time Block has threatened legal action to get another organization using the name Gymkhana to stop.
When reached for comment, Joshua Martelli of Mad Media said "we can't comment on the lawsuit" and then proceeded to comment on the lawsuit, saying "it is completely without merit and we intend to defend it vigorously."
He went on to say:
"However, anyone who is familiar with our work can plainly see that it could hardly be described as a "recording."
As the credited directors, producers and editors of three highly successful Gymkhana-titled films, we are proud of our work, for which we have received several industry awards."
In an email interview with Jalopnik, Ken Block countered this, saying the creative concept, direction and direction of edits were handled by himself, DC Shoes, and members of his rally team.
The website has been live for more than a year, so why sue now?
"A colleague of mine that works at a car manufacturer hit me up, asking if I had anything to do with the website, as this colleague had been approached by Mad Media to purchase advertising on the site," said Block. "He had no clue that neither myself, nor DC Shoes, were affiliated with Gymkhana.com, and that gave us major cause for alarm."
Martelli says the brand "Gymkhana" does not merely belong to Block as it's a sport.
"The automotive sport gymkhana has been around since the early 1900s," said Martelli. "No one has the right to prevent the public from using the word gymkhana to report on, discuss, or promote the sport — especially on a website"
Of course, in the early 1900s they probably weren't Gymkhana-ing with turbocharged horseless buggies. Block also owns the trademark for Gymkhana.
Block says he assumed that Martelli, as a contractor, had registered Gymkhana.com for his client and that he tried to acquire it from Matt and Josh Martelli without a lawsuit. He said he was "blindsided" by what happened and that he'd assumed he was on good terms with Mad Media.
"Unfortunately, when I reached out to Josh Martelli about the site and the URL, he essentially told me to go f myself, which came as a huge shock to me!" said Block. "We'd worked together for a long time, become friendly and neither myself, DC Shoes or anyone on my team felt as if there was any bad blood with Mad Media up to that point."
With both sides claiming they're committed to fighting for the Gymkhana brand this could be a long legal battle.
"To threaten everyone wishing to participate and report on the sport of gymkhana — with high-priced attorneys and lawsuits — seems to be a slap in the face to the folks who support gymkhana videos in the first place," said Martelli.
Block said, essentially, the same thing to us.
"I've been working on making our events something that regular drivers could enjoy and have access to, just like traditional autocross. What Mad Media's doing right now isn't helping that cause, it's only hurting it."
It's a fight for the soul, and most importantly the name, of Gymkhana.
The full lawsuit is below, the full statement from Joshua Martelli and interview with Ken Block can be found here.