University of Texas Lawyers Get an A+ in Brand Damagement

February 15, 2007 at 3:24 pm 2 comments

Saw Em OffThe Lawyers of the University of Texas have lost their minds. They are suing Fadi Kalaouze, the operator of Aggieland Outfitters and Inspirations ( a combination of three stores that sell Aggie T-shirts), for the sell of their “SAW ‘EM OFF” T-Shirt Design. The UT lawyers are asking for Fadi Kalaouze and Kalcorp Enterprises to stop sales of “SAW ‘EM OFF!” merchandise and they are asking to recover alleged damages for past sales.

Fadi’s response to UT states that “SAW ‘EM OFF!” is an obvious parody of the UT trademark that could confuse no one seeking to buy products sponsored by and promoting UT, and that UT has waived any right to complain by waiting for almost 10 years.

The University of Stanford describes fair use as:

a fair use is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and “transformative” purpose such as to comment upon, criticize or parody a copyrighted work.

and

A parody is a work that ridicules another, usually well-known work, by imitating it in a comic way. Judges understand that by its nature, parody demands some taking from the original work being parodied. Unlike other forms of fair use, a fairly extensive use of the original work is permitted in a parody in order to “conjure up” the original.

Now there is another issue here, one that borders on common sense. The issue involves the notion that the University of Texas is actually damaging it’s own brand by a law suit that involves suing a rival school for a competitve sports T-shirt design that demonstrates a clear change to the logo design for the purpose of parody. It hasn’t yet, but could turn into a PR nightmare for U.T.

Famous rivalry fuels competitive brands: The New York Yankees and the Boston Red Socks. Michigan and Ohio State. Florida and Florida State. Duke and North Carolina. The competition allows them to acheive a reach far beyond the borders of their state or conference. They become famous for it. They get national air time on television, and sell out venues with hard to come by game tickets. The Longhorns and the Aggies are such rivals.

In elementary schools in the state of Texas it is common to by spirit ribbons for your “high school’s football team” blazened with phrases and parodies like “SQUASH THE YELLOWJACKETS” and “TRASH THE TIGERS”. These ribbons are sold and come complete with a parody of the rival school logo.

So what does it look like to the world when one of the largest United States universities sues a T-shirt company for the parody of their logo for rival sports games?

It looks like they are a bunch of weasels.

U.T. and Austin Texas has always had a brand impression to me of being a place for free thinking and an institute for premier education it Texas. How does it make U.T. students and supporters feel to know that their school is suing an Aggie T-shirt company for a funny t-shirt. Don’t let your school create a brand defamation of itself. The UT Lawyers should sue themselves.

BTW, I went to Texas Tech.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. katya  |  February 16, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    Hee hee… check out the A&M-targeted ‘saw em off’ version:

    http://mikemcguff.blogspot.com/2007/02/sawed-off-big-xii-texas-rival-logos.html

    Reply
  • 2. Dan Keeney  |  February 16, 2007 at 11:44 pm

    The real culprit isn’t the University (although the leadership of many of America’s Universities is certainly weasily), it is Collegiate Licensing Co., which handles licensing issues for many of the nation’s important schools. CLC handles the University of Texas in this embarrassing matter and they also handle Texas Tech University’s licensing. In both cases, CLC has convinced University leaders to wage a miopic attack on small businesses that completely ignores the massive benefits that these businesses provide the schools. In the case of TTU (see http://www.savethesmallguy.com), CLC’s lawyers working on behalf of the school forced an alumni-owned store into bankruptcy for selling unlicensed goods. The only thing is, the goods weren’t licensed because Texas Tech hadn’t bothered to seek trademarks on them. Of course, that little factoid didn’t stop CLC from suing and in the process they racked up legal fees in excees of a half MILLION dollars. At issue? About $6,500 in allegedly missed fees. It’s a perfect illustration of how badly out of whack the whole system is. Universities should welcome small businesses that innovate. They should work WITH them to come up with new ideas — phrases, illustrations and products — and work cooperatively to determine a fair way of sharing revenues. Currently, the law is on the side of the BIG institutions, but common sense will prevail at some point.

    Disclosure: I was but am no longer involved as PR counsel for Red Raider Outfitter in Lubbock.

    Reply

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