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Tiger trouble: Douglas to replace logo

by Joey Crandall

Douglas High School is on the lookout for a new Tiger head. Or paw. Or claw. Perhaps even new stripes or fangs.

Just so long as the colors remain orange and black.

Douglas principal Marty Swisher said the school will conduct a logo design contest among its students this fall with the hopes of finding a new brand for the school.

With that, he hopes to bring to a close a bizarre year-and-a-half run-in with the Collegiate Licensing Co., a company charged with handling marketing and copyright issues for the NCAA.

Douglas received a “cease-and-desist” letter from the CLC in the spring of 2009 demanding that Douglas stop using a stylized Tiger head in all appearances immediately because it was owned and copyrighted by Towson University in Maryland.

There was no argument – Douglas had lifted the logo from Towson for its football helmet decals in 2003, although at the time it had not yet been copyrighted. But such a practice is hardly uncommon among high schools.

Nationally, especially with the rise of internet coverage of high school and youth sports, licensing companies have been particularly vigilant in searching out possible infringements.

A quick internet search will produce hundreds of stories about high schools having to scramble to find new logos after a licensing company contacts them with similar letters.

Locally, Wooster (Indianapolis Colts), Damonte Ranch (Southern Methodist University), Spanish Springs (Washington State University), McQueen (Army) and South Tahoe (Minnesota Vikings) have all derived their respective primary or football helmet logos from other sources with few modifications in recent years.

Other specific sports programs both in the area and nationally have carried direct copies of college or pro team logos and fonts on their uniforms.

In the years since first putting the logo on the helmets, the logo was adopted more or less as Douglas’ official logo, appearing on the school Web site, various signs around campus, school letterhead and even the artificial turf football field installed in 2006.

While there was no questioning the logo was taken from Towson, Douglas had changed its colors from Towson gold and black to orange and black, along with slightly changing the shape of it.

“The letter came as a surprise to us,” Swisher said. “We weren’t making any substantial profit off the logo, we’re 2,500 miles away from the school in question and we’re obviously not in competition with Towson. The boosters sold merchandise with the logo the past few years, but that money goes right back into the athletic program.

“But the law is the law.”

In similar cases, colleges across the country have often been sympathetic to “offending” high schools, even to the point of showing hesitance to enforce the copyright regulations.

But, per copyright regulations, the trademark owner must protect its copyright at the risk of losing their rights to the logo.

What happens when a copyright is not enforced is that a precendent of non-enforcement is set.

In the legal world, that make it difficult for the copyright owner if a more serious competitor shows up down the road with a similar logo.

A story last month in the Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise about a similar conflict between Penn State and Buna High School likened the process to counterfeiting money.

If the counterfeit bills aren’t stopped from being distributed, the real money is devalued. So it is with the logo situation.

Swisher and Douglas High administration began working with the CLC to find an acceptable solution toward the removal of the logo.

The logo came down from the school’s Web site last fall, and has been removed from the letterhead.

It will not be placed on any new uniforms ordered by the school. However, the CLC allowed a phasing out process, meaning Douglas teams can continue to wear uniforms with the logo on it until they are replaced (This includes until the school runs out of the helmet decals for the football team).

The other uniforms to bear infringing logos in the past year were the boys’ basketball team (which actually bear the Missouri Tigers’ logo on the short), the track & field team, the wrestling team and the volleyball team.

“They gave us until 2014 to phase those out, with the agreement being that no new uniforms would be ordered with the logo on them,” Swisher said.

That left the signage at the school, a large mural in the back of the gym and a the 50-yard line of the football field.

“We explained to them the field is nearly new and it would cost a lot of money to replace the logo, so they gave us until about 2020, when we’d be needing to resurface the field anyway,” Swisher said.

Over the last year, the school worked with the licensing company to try to create a similar logo to replace the Towson logo. 2010 graduate Rodrigo Cruz designed a four variations on the logo, all of which were rejected for being too similar.

“We tried some modifications, each one we thought was significantly different from Towson’s logo but the company rejected each one for being too similar,” Swisher said. “It was a frustrating process and Rodrigo really put in a lot of hard work trying to find an acceptable solution.”

Swisher said he also inquired about purchasing a license agreement to use the logo, using funds from the booster club, but that the CLC wouldn’t allow that either.

“After we exhausted those options, that’s when we started talking about opening up a contest to the student body,” he said.

“The winner, as a condition of receiving the prize, will sign the rights of the logo over to the school and the school will then have it copyrighted.

“We want to establish our own brand,” Swisher said. “It doesn’t matter what it ends up looking like, because we know the kids and the coaches will still represent the school and the community the same way.

“They are already our brand.”

Swisher said the conditions of contest entries will simply be that it has to be some sort of tiger, or tiger-related artwork with primarily orange, black or white as the colors.

“I suppose they could incorporate some other colors, but the school colors will remain orange and black,” he said.

Lettering can be incorporated in the entries if desired. Details of the contest, like deadlines and requirements, will be released later this fall.

“We’re pretty open on what it’s going to be,” he said. “We know someone will come up with something great.”

Swisher also said he prefers that the logo ends up coming from the current student body, but that anyone interested in knowing more about the contest can contact the school at 782-5136.