The Arms & Legs of the Trademark

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An interesting story in the newspaper yesterday got me started thinking about how territorial some can become over their branding. In summary, the article “Who Owns Crimson and White?”, there is a lawsuit against an artist for painting images from Alabama football games. In the artwork, the players are depicted exactly how they appear on the field, in their crimson and white uniforms. Alabama is fighting back that they have “exclusive rights to its trademark, which includes the Tide’s famous crimson-and-white colors.” 

I started thinking about how far trademarks and brands reach, and how regulated they should be? I wrote a post a few weeks back on colors in the fashion industry, and the fight over the color Red on a shoe belonging exclusively to a particular company/brand. Now it is coming up again, in sports and in artwork. 

The Pantone Matching System has been around since the 1960’s, and while it helps tremendously in choosing brand colors and keeping them consistent through all methods of advertising and marketing, Pantone, LLC and their parent company X-Rite owns the colors, not any other brand or trademark. Therefore, it seems as if this fight would have no grounds to stand.

Trademarks are an interesting animal. Sometimes, It is almost as if they exist solely for confirmation. This confirmation not only tells the world that the brand is legit, but it also convinces the owner of the brand he has something worth protecting. In so many instances, it is important to have this protection, or risk loosing all your hard work to the hands of someone else. However, when it comes to the Alabama football team, I would wager to say that  their livelihood and what they have built their brand image to be, whether it be with the mascot, the logo font, or the crimson and white, is not in fear of a takeover. Especially by Moore, who seems to simply be exercising his ‘freedom of speech’.

The following paragraph from the article really boils it down…it is not about the crimson and white…it is about the outlets in which the specific branding is used: “Mark McKenna, a Notre Dame professor specializing in trademark law, is an amicus attorney for the case. In a phone interview last week, he said: “CLC and the university are using Daniel Moore as a test case. The bottom line is that Alabama and other schools want to control all the merchandise carrying an image associated with their schools. If they win, it isn’t clear how far they could take this. If Daniel Moore isn’t free to use an image from an Alabama game, how do we know that, say, Sports Illustrated wouldn’t be able to use a photo from an Alabama football game without the university’s approval? How do we know it would be OK for a newspaper to print a game photo? For that matter, could they even say ‘University of Alabama’ or ‘Crimson Tide’ in print?”

What I really think is ironic in this whole fiasco: “Mr. Moore’s works have boosted Alabama football’s prestige, bolstering fan support for the same self-sustaining athletic department that is now seeking to restrict the artist’s right to portray the team in paint.”

-Quotes taken from WSJ Article “Who Owns Crimson and White”, March 22, 2012

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