By now, you’ve probably seen the pun-tastic headlines: “Car Company Rams Florida High School,” read one on the Web site of Miami’s NBC affiliate. If you haven’t, the gist of the story is this: Lake Mary High School agreed Feb. 9 to discontinue use of its ram’s head logo, after Chrysler threatened a trademark infringement suit because the school’s emblem is identical to that of Dodge.
“It’s not a case of not wanting to fight [Chrysler],” Lake Mary Principal Michael Kotkin told National Public Radio. “My boss, if you will, at the county level, as well as our county lawyers, felt that this wasn’t something that we would be able to win, quite frankly. And the school resources being directed towards law rather than to the students, rather than to the educating of our students, really doesn’t seem to make good sense.”
Not that bowing to Chrysler’s demand will be free either. Kotkin estimated replacing the high school’s gym floor, which bears the logo, will cost $15,000. And, of course, the school must also pay to revamp everything from its uniforms to its official letterhead.
This is an alarming occurrence to any Naugy sports fan who’s ever noticed NHS’ Greyhound mascot looks like it could have sprinted straight off the side a Greyhound bus.
“It’s crossed my mind when I’m passing a bus on the highway,” Naugatuck Athletic Director Tom Pompei acknowledged. “If we ever got called on it, I think we’d have to walk away. Number one, we don’t have the money to fight a big company like that, and number two, they’d probably win.”
Now, let’s make a couple things clear here: First, no one is suggesting Naugatuck High stole Greyhound Bus Lines’ logo. Pompei is unsure of the Hound’s origins, as is Ed Mariano, the eponymous godfather the school’s gymnasium. As he recalls, NHS picked up the nickname Greyhounds because of its fast-paced boys’ basketball teams of the 1930s and 1940s but did not use the image during his playing days. Former Naugatuck Historical Society President Bridget Mariano did some research and found the first use of the name Greyhounds in the school’s 1938 yearbook and the first appearance of the dog itself on the cover of the 1950 edition. Is it possible that yearbook staff of six decades ago copied the canine? Sure, but there’s nothing to prove it.
Second, Greyhound Bus Lines has never told Naugy to drop the pooch, and there’s no indication it will.
But, based on last month’s developments in Florida, what’s to stop the bus company—which boasts on its Web site, “The Greyhound running dog is one of the most-recognized brands in the world”—from giving Naugatuck the same legal wedgie Chrysler gave Lake Mary?
The borough is far from alone here. Within the Naugatuck Valley League, at least four other schools could easily be accused of lifting logos from other franchises. Kennedy’s Eagle matches the Philadelphia Eagles’, Seymour’s paw print is a cockeyed version of Clemson’s, Torrington’s T looks like the University of Tennessee’s, and Wilby’s Wildcat is the growlin’ image of Kansas State’s.
Other Connecticut schools in the same position include Bridgeport Central and Rockville (St. Louis Rams); Daniel Hand, Bacon Academy, Ridgefield, Rocky Hill, Cheshire Academy, South Windsor, Foran and Pomperaug (Clemson); East Lyme (Minnesota Vikings); Enfield, Wilton, Old Lyme, Manchester and Windsor (Washington Redskins); Sheehan (Tennessee Titans); Norwich Free Academy and Masuk (Kansas State); Greenwich and South Kent (Arizona Cardinals); Jonathan Law (Philadelphia Eagles); Weston (Southern California); Southington (Rutgers); New Britain (University of Miami); Putnam (Purdue); Canterbury (Cincinnati Reds); Gunnery and Guilford (University of Georgia); St. Luke’s (St. Louis Cardinals); Maloney (Michigan State); and Fairfield Warde (Washington Nationals).
Some of these schools would likely contend their logos are, in fact, unique and that any similarities to other teams’ or companies’ are coincidental or unavoidable. As Kotkin, the Lake Mary principal put it, “You know, a ram is a ram. I don’t know how many different ways you can make a ram look like a ram and then it’s not a Billy goat or a moose or a whatever it is.”
But Kennedy AD David Rossi, for one, admits his school’s Eagle is a copycat.
“About four years ago, we sat down to pick a new logo,” he said. “We just searched Web sites for high school and college eagle logos and picked one we liked. We didn’t specifically go for the Philadelphia Eagles’. We also liked the [Boston College] Eagle. But we just picked one and sent it to the printer.”
I’d bet the Citizen’s News masthead plenty of other schools have used the Kennedy method of graphic design.
One school in no danger of receiving a cease and desist order—quite the reverse, actually—is Woodland, whose Hawk is one of a kind. In December 2000, nine months before the school opened, the Region 16 Board of Education selected a custom logo designed by GP&P of Prospect. Last year, the board trademarked various incarnations of the bird to make sure it doesn’t nest someplace else.
“We were afraid it was slipping away and that it would be used in a way not consistent with the district’s wishes,” Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Jim Agostine said. “My worst fear was that our very recognizable Hawk would appear on clothing with inappropriate sayings.”
Agostine added he once told “a local food distributer” to stop using the Woodland Hawk because the store did not have permission to do so.
Hey, if a high school can defend its intellectual property, shouldn’t Chrysler and other mega-entities be able to do the same?
Yes, if we’re talking about the court of law. No, if we’re talking about the court of common sense.
Look, it’s irresponsible for a school to make a Google image search the extent of its logo design process. A student who pulled a similar stunt would be flunked for plagiarism. Many school districts probably assume, as I did, that a custom job is prohibitively expensive. Region 16 paid all of $359 for its emblem. Agostine said the trademarking process was “laborious”—mostly because every use, from uniforms to coffee mugs, requires a separate application—but even the district’s eight total applications cost only $400.
However, it’s rather petty and mean-spirited for a large company, professional team or university to threaten a high school. As David Heller, an attorney and Naugatuck Board of Education member, explained, “Copyright laws are meant to protect a product from being infringed on by a competing company or business.” In other words, the law’s real purpose isn’t to prevent stealing itself—it’s to prevent devaluation that results from stealing. And I seriously doubt any high school’s use of a stolen logo devalues the original.
Let’s hope Greyhound Bus Lines, the Philadelphia Eagles and all these other big guys find something better to do than copy Chrysler and play high school bully.
CN Correspondent Kyle Brennan contributed to this report.