On June 11, 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued an opinion largely in favor of artist Daniel A. Moore (“Moore”) in a long-standing battle between Moore and the University of Alabama (“Alabama”) over Moore’s right to depict the Crimson Tide’s football uniforms on paintings, prints, calendars, and other merchandise. On appeal from the Northern District of Alabama, the Court found that the First Amendment‘s protection of artistic expression was such that Moore’s paintings, prints, and calendars did not violate the Lanham Act. The Court held that Moore waived his right to assert First Amendment protection over the other merchandise — such as mugs and “postcard-sized mini-prints” — but nevertheless remanded to the district court for a determination of whether Alabama acquiesced to Moore’s uses on those products.
|Moore’s “Goal Line Stand” from the 1979 Sugar Bowl|
In 1979, Moore, an Alabama alum, began selling originals and prints of paintings depicting historic scenes in Alabama football, such as the “Goal Line Stand” shown here. Moore’s notoriety grew as he continued to paint scenes without any kind of agreement or relationship with Alabama. From 1991 to 1999, Moore signed a dozen licensing agreements with Alabama to produce works according to certain terms and often bearing Alabama’s registered trademarks on the packaging or a “seal of approval” evidencing its officially licensed status. During that time period and with Alabama’s apparent knowledge, Moore also created and sold numerous unlicensed paintings and prints and did not pay royalties to Alabama for any of those items.
In 2002, Alabama told Moore that he needed permission to portray Alabama’s uniforms, including the jersey and helmet designs and the crimson and white colors, and that he would have to license all of his Alabama-related products. Moore disagreed and the parties’ subsequent negotiations were unsuccessful. Alabama brought suit on March 18, 2005 in the Northern District of Alabama, contending that Moore breached the prior license agreements and that Moore’s products violated the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a), by infringing Alabama’s trademark rights in the football uniforms.
After discovery on the Lanham Act issues, both parties moved for summary judgment. The district court found that the parties’ prior licensing agreements did not cover the items at issue because “uniforms were not included in the agreements’ definitions of ‘licensed indicia’,” that the depiction of the uniforms in paintings and prints was protected by the First Amendment and also the fair use doctrine, and that the depiction of the uniforms on mugs, calendars, and other “mundane products” was not protected by the First Amendment and would likely cause consumer confusion. Accordingly, the district court entered summary judgment in favor of Moore with regard to the original paintings and prints, and entered summary judgment in favor of Alabama with respect to the calendars, mugs, and “mundane products.” Both parties appealed.
Varying slightly from the grouping at the district court level, the Court split the products into two categories. The first category was composed of paintings, prints, and calendars. The second category contained mugs and other merchandise.
Paintings, Prints, and Calendars
The Eleventh Circuit then turned to the trademark claims and Alabama’s contention that the products create a likelihood of confusion on the part of buyers that Alabama sponsored or endorsed the products. Rather than evaluate the strength of the marks, however, the Court settled the matter on First Amendment grounds. Alabama argued that Moore’s works were “more commercial than expressive speech” and therefore entitled to a lower degree of First Amendment protection. The Eleventh Circuit rejected Alabama’s argument, ruling that Moore’s paintings, prints, and calendars were expressive speech “entitled to full protection under the First Amendment,” despite having been sold for money.
|2012 calendar featuring Moore’s works|
“[W]e conclude that the First Amendment interests in artistic expression so clearly outweigh whatever consumer confusion that might exist on these facts that we must necessarily conclude that there has been no violation of the Lanham Act with respect to the paintings, prints, and calendars.”
Mugs and Other Merchandise
The reported appellate and district court decisions are Univ. of Ala. Bd. of Trustees v. New Life Art Inc., 677 F. Supp. 2d 1238 (N.D. Ala. 2009), aff’d in part, rev’d in part, and remanded, ___ F.3d ___, 2012 U.S. App.LEXIS 11794 (11th Cir. Jun. 11, 2012).
Categories: Before 2017
Leave a Reply