Blog Entry

Florida State infringement lawsuit misses mark

Posted on: March 23, 2011 3:43 pm
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Posted by Adam Jacobi

The practice of high school athletics borrowing mascots and other identity aspects from college programs is about as old as organized athletics themselves. Not every school does it, of course, but enough do that practically every high school conference has at least a couple teams with some, shall we say, "familiar" logos and/or nicknames.

Lately, some college athletic departments have been cracking down on the practice, suing high schools who use unlicensed likenesses. It seems unduly harsh for a college to do so, but merchandising licenses are lucrative enough that athletic departments actively try to maintain their control of the trademarked logos and insignia. That's just common business sense.

So it goes for Salem High School in Conyers, Georgia, who is being forced by Florida State and FSU's licensing company to discontinue the use of the iconic arrowhead insignia. Salem may still call itself the Seminoles, but it faces an overhaul that will likely cost the Rockdale Board of Education upwards of $200,000:

 

The Rockdale County Board of Education voted Thursday to accept a settlement offer that allows the schools to keep the name, though it may only be used when preceded by either Salem High or Memorial Middle.

"I thought it was a joke," said school board member Darlene Hotchkiss, referring to the letter. "Why are they going after the little guys?"

The missive, sent by the Collegiate Licensing Company on behalf of the university, said the schools' logo and mascot "may cause consumers to erroneously believe that the university has authorized Salem High School to use its marks. Additionally, it will dilute the distinctiveness of the marks that the public associates with the university."

Five years or not, the eventual cost could top $200,000, Hotchkiss told the AJC.

As Prep Rally notes, that's a $200,000 bill for a school board that already faces a $10 million budget shortfall, which seems particularly heinous, but the CLC explained that only the football uniforms are required to be replaced immediately. That's still a significant expense, but at least it's smaller.

Let's set aside the financial aspect, though, because this is a terrible idea on FSU and the CLC's part no matter what the "offending" school board's budget looks like.

First of all, the argument that Salem High might be "diluting" the FSU brand is preposterous. Nobody operates under the impression that a high school and college are somehow affiliated if the high school uses the college's mascot/nickname, especially if the two schools aren't even in the same state. Moreover, it's not as if Salem memorabilia sales somehow adversely affect FSU's; nobody's going to buy a Salem hoodie instead of FSU's. In fact, Salem's use of the arrowhead only adds to the ubiquity of the logo, making it more recognizable and iconic.

Also, consider who it is using these logos: high school kids. High school kids who aren't going to wear high school gear their entire life. High school kids who are going to want a college team to attach themselves to, especially if they don't end up attending a college with a major athletic program. FSU's got a nice head start with them (and their families), doesn't it?

But alas, in this age of aggressive legal stances and "brand management," unauthorized usage of a logo or namesake is generally frowned upon at best -- and usually litigated -- regardless of the actual consequences of that usage. It's a shame. FSU and the CLC have a great opportunity to publicly take a forward stance with sane brand management, and the best they can do is tell a debt-ridden school board over 250 miles away in a different state to take its time complying with an expensive rebranding directive. 

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Comments

Since: Feb 27, 2011
Posted on: March 25, 2011 10:05 am
 

Florida State infringement lawsuit misses mark

The article states this was "business common sense", this was bad for business. I agree, the school isn't going to put a dent into Florida State's athletic sales. This will be tough on FSU recruiting in that area and maybe in the state of Georgia. Teachers, coaches, and AD's all bond.



Since: Sep 3, 2007
Posted on: March 24, 2011 1:27 pm
 

Florida State infringement lawsuit misses mark

 would it have killed the high school to contact Florida State and ask?

A lot of high schools have been around a long long time.  In one of the cases the principal in 1969 said that he received permission from whoever the president of the university was in 1969.  Verbal contract?  No longer binding 40-some years later.




Since: Mar 19, 2008
Posted on: March 24, 2011 11:55 am
 

Florida State infringement lawsuit misses mark

Universities are forced to have this policy, because of their high dollar contracts with athletic clothing companies.  Reading between the lines, it is clear that FSU is saying that the use of its logos for profit by non-related entities is infringement of FSUs right to its own logo.  The HS is allowed to keep all existing logos, etc.  I think the $200,000 is a number inclusive of some already projected expenses.  It will be interesting to see how this affects recruiting in the future.

BTW:  I think Southeast HS(Bradenton, Fl) and FSU mutually resolved their issues and there was no further discussion.




Since: Mar 19, 2008
Posted on: March 24, 2011 11:54 am
 

Florida State infringement lawsuit misses mark

Universities are forced to have this policy, because of their high dollar contracts with athletic clothing companies.  Reading between the lines, it is clear that FSU is saying that the use of its logos for profit by non-related entities is infringement of FSUs right to its own logo.  The HS is allowed to keep all existing logos, etc.  I think the $200,000 is a number inclusive of some already projected expenses.  It will be interesting to see how this affects recruiting in the future.

BTW:  I think Southeast HS(Bradenton, Fl) and FSU mutually resolved their issues and there was no further discussion.




Since: Jul 22, 2007
Posted on: March 24, 2011 11:03 am
 

Florida State infringement lawsuit misses mark

Don't blame the attorney in this case, he/she are doing their job.
The University made the decision to pursue this, the attorney can argue the merits of the case to them or tell them whether it's a good or bad idea but in the end it's the University president and trustees who make the final decision as to pursue this matter or not.
No school attorney is going to have carte blanche to go and sue whomever he or she wants to on behalf of the univeristy.



Since: Sep 8, 2006
Posted on: March 24, 2011 10:49 am
 

Florida State infringement lawsuit misses mark

On the surface it seems rather petty, but it's not about suing schools or getting money or whatever, it's about having control of your image.  In this day and age, that's the most important thing a school owns.  

And FSU's licensing company gave the high school 10 years to comply.  As is pretty common, my high school got new uniforms every other year - home one year, away the next - I think they can purge an entire set of uniforms with FSU logos in ten years.  And the helmet stickers are replaced every year, sometimes during the year if they get badly torn up.  I don't see how this could possibly be a $200,000 investment.  Where are they buying their uniforms and helmet stickers, the U.S. Government?




Since: Sep 19, 2006
Posted on: March 24, 2011 10:29 am
 

Florida State infringement lawsuit misses mark

Im not defending FSU necessarily, but would it have killed the high school to contact Florida State and ask? Waaaaay back in the stone ages when my father started up the ice hockey team at the high school he taught at, their logo design was a bear on skates. They contacted the Pittsburgh Penguins, and asked if, due to the somewhat similar nature of the design, if they (the Penguins) would have an issue with it. The Penguins response, in a nutshell, was...Have at it and good luck. I'm not saying the response would have been the same had the design been a much more direct likeness, if not outright copy, but it cant hurt to ask. It seems to me to be, at the very least, the courteous thing to do.



Since: Sep 3, 2007
Posted on: March 24, 2011 10:11 am
 

Florida State infringement lawsuit misses mark

It is a joke and seems really petty.  Wait, that is what is expected from FSU!

Then why would Miami ask Union High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma to stop using the "split U"?????

 




Since: Oct 10, 2007
Posted on: March 24, 2011 10:02 am
 

Florida State infringement lawsuit misses mark

This is not a new story.They have been doing this to high schools around the country and even in their ownbackyard in Florida.  My wife's alma mater in Bradenton, Florida is called the Southeast Seminoles and FSU did the same thing to them.  It is a joke and seems really petty.  Wait, that is what is expected from FSU!



Since: Aug 15, 2007
Posted on: March 24, 2011 9:33 am
 

Florida State infringement lawsuit misses mark

I find it disgusting that either/any universities in Florida would object to any high school using their logo's.  How's the old saying go.....imitation is the greatest form of flattery.....

There's a high school down here in the Ellenton/Bradenton area took this to somewhat of an extreme.....their mascot is the FSU Seminole head emblem, and their school colors are orange and blue.  Are UF and FSU gonna gang up on this school and deplete the HS's budget for the next 10 yrs?  Freakin' pathetic of any university to endorse such acts on any learning institute!!!!


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