Sunday, July 13, 2008

T-shirt trial stretches with complexities


— A federal jury must weigh complex legal issues and hundreds of pieces of evidence in a lawsuit pitting Kansas University against a Lawrence T-shirt seller.

"Something dangerous is going on here," warned attorney Jim Tilly in his closing statement last week after a seven-day trial.

Tilly represents Larry Sinks, owner of, 734 Mass., and Clark Orth, a T-shirt printer.

KU claims Sinks has infringed on the school's trademarks by selling T-shirts that people might associate with KU, although Sinks has no license agreement with KU and pays the school nothing. And KU says some of the T-shirts have what many consider offensive messages, thus harming the school's image.

KU is seeking $476,000 in Sinks' profits and $33,000 in royalties, plus unspecified punitive damages against Sinks and Orth.

The eight-person jury started deliberating on the case late Thursday and is scheduled to continue Monday.

Before receiving the case, the jury received court instructions from U.S. District Court Judge Julie Robinson that took longer than an hour to read. Robinson said the jury verdict form contained 800 questions. A total of 206 T-shirts are in dispute.

Tilly said KU was overreaching, trying to control everything that had to do with the university.

"Do you want to give the university a monopoly over any use of college colors?" he asked.

Sinks said he did everything possible to tell customers that his shirts were not sponsored, affiliated or licensed by KU. He has more than 200 signs in his store that inform buyers of that.

But Charlie Henn, an attorney representing KU, said Sinks was making money off the university's brand without being licensed to do so.

"He sold 25,000 infringing shirts in Lawrence," he said. Henn said Sinks undercut the 490 retailers who sell official KU merchandise and pay royalties to the school.

Sinks tried to get a license agreement with KU, but the school denied him. "The university gets to decide who can use their trademarks and who can't," Henn said.

And, he said, there are many people confused about whether KU endorses such T-shirts that say "Muck Fizzou," or "Our Coach Beat Anorexia." Those shirts tarnish the school's image, he said.

Because it is a civil case, the jury need only to find that a preponderance of the evidence supports KU to rule in the school's favor. But such a finding must be unanimous.

Whether there exists confusion in the public mind about whether a T-shirt is affiliated with KU is a critical part of the case. If the jury believe there is confusion, then it may rule in KU's favor.

A survey done for Sinks indicated that people could tell the difference between a licensed and unlicensed T-shirt. But an expert witness testifying on behalf of KU said the survey was "flawed."

Tilly, however, said if KU wanted to prove there was confusion over the T-shirts, it should have done its own survey. KU didn't, he said.

"They tried to coast," he said. "The plaintiffs have woefully failed to carry the burden of proof in the case."

Henn, however, said KU wasn't obligated to do a survey. He pointed to comments made in blogs that showed some people mistakenly thought some of Sinks' T-shirts were official KU merchandise.

Henn also said Sinks' own admission of having numerous disclaimer signs posted in his store indicates he is infringing on KU's trademarks.

"Why would he need 200 signs in his store, if this weren't a problem?" he asked.


pbowman2 12 years, 2 months ago

This case should never have gone to the jury. KU has lost and should be ashamed for letting it go this far. I am delighted when the Jayhawks excell at athletics but Lew has gone too far in promoting the school's greed.

Kyle Rohde 12 years, 2 months ago

KUmatt, Fred Phelps is not selling those signs so that's a freedom of speech issue, not a trademark one.

chicagoeddie 12 years, 2 months ago

i really dont understand why ku is giving this guy a hard time. now there are shirts that i think he should stop printing because of the vulgarity that has nothing to do with sports.but people have been wearing these shirts for a while now, muck fizzou, friends dont let friends go to MU and they were sold from local bars but now they are taking a stance...?i like ths shirts they bring a bond to students and they are all over the games. free enterprise is good as long as it doesnt go overboard, keep the shirts classy.

sevenyearhawk 12 years, 2 months ago

Well here's what we've been discussing on the "other" side of this site ...MUCK FIZZOU, certainly no one is dumb enough to think that that is officially sanctioned, and yes ... ESPN doesn't like it and has told the University that it limits what and how they'll film the student section.But apparently Joe College has made shirts with players names (or nicknames) and that's just wrong. The school cannot (by NCAA mandate) use players names on jerseys, not to mention that the players themselves aren't benefiting from it.On the other hand, trademarking the color blue and the word "Kansas" is overkill.It is a shame that this has to be an either/or proposition ... some of his shirts are probably fine (Missouri: 6 million people, five last names), but others (with the players names) definitely need to be prohibited.

Cora Smith 12 years, 2 months ago

I am a Jayhawk through and through but I hope the university does not win this case. Free enterprise is a great thing and uniqueness and adaptability are trademarks of American society. It is almost an embarrasment that the University would stoop so low as to sue this business.

sevenyearhawk 12 years, 2 months ago

OH MY ...Please turn Lew loose on that as s hat!!

Kevin Kelly 12 years, 2 months ago

The only difference between the bars you mentioned selling shirts and Joe College is that Joe College is making too much money.That's all this is about. If KU wanted to get creative and sell silly (but not offensive) KU brand shirts they might compete and give people a choice. I would rather give my money to a licenced dealer. But the licenced shirts are BORING!Don't beat'em KU, join them.

imnotpaulpierce 12 years, 2 months ago

Is anyone siding with the University? I have heard no pro-U comments.

hardwick15 12 years, 2 months ago

Did anyone who is here posting an opinion actually attend the trial? Puggy? Pbowman2? Because if not, your opinions do not carry any weight. If you did, cite something in the record to support your view that KU has lost this case. I'll assume you didn't hear the arguments and cannot cite the record to support your opinions. Consider your previous posts laughable.

Nutflush21 12 years, 2 months ago

"Why would he need 200 signs in his store, if this weren't a problem?" he asked.Sinks put the signs up because the Lew wrote him a nasty nasty letter saying that he would sue the crap out of Sinks and "bury him" in legal fees.

Lindsey Buscher 12 years, 2 months ago

"He pointed to comments made in blogs"KU seriously cited evidence from BLOGS to make their case??? BLOGS??? Since when do the opinions of bloggers carry any weight in court??? I can only assume they mean the and message boards, but we just get on and post for fun and a lot of posts are pure sarcasm. It cannot possibly be admissible in court. KU should lose this case, no burden of proof.

Matt Kenton 12 years, 2 months ago

If KU wants to go after someone who displays "offensive messages" that "harm the school's image," how about Fred Phelps' group?They're at KU graduations with red and blue signs with Jayhawk logos and "KU" on them (also "Gay Hawk" "You Hate Your Kids" etc)

Mike Young 12 years, 2 months ago

I line in NC and wear my anti-UNC shirts proudly. Where else would I be able to find them?

100 12 years, 2 months ago

  1. The KU shirts with players names, believe it or not, were legal, and sanctioned by the U (up until 2 years ago where the NCAA stepped in). The players agreed to it at the time, signing paperwork, and yes, no money. It was sweet (free pub 4 kids) until other schools got jealous of our legal loopholes. 2. KU is absolutely rite. We have a classy institution which we r all proud of. If u want to make a tshirt 4 yourself, that's your own business. But u can't sell them. Plain and simple; this guy is guilty and deserves to be found as such. Its the precedent that's important here. In short, good job KU.

roshi12 12 years, 2 months ago

Yes it is the precedent that is important here. But no it is not the correct one. I don't know all the precise details, like was he using KU logos, or other trademarks on the shirts? If not, there is no way that this case should have gone KU's way. Just because $$$ is part of the equation, doesn't take away the right to free speech. (see political speech and the inability to have any real limits on campaign spending). The only issue is whether he used trademarked or copywrited material without permission. No corporation, government, school, or anything else should be able to sue someone just because they are selling something they don't like. In short, you are wrong 100, bad job KU.

100 12 years, 2 months ago

ROSHI12: 1. You seem like a Missouri fan posting on a KU site, but I'll give u the benefit of the doubt until I get further evidence of it. 2. So, KU fan, you said it yourself: you don't know any details of this case... So therefore KU is wrong to sue? Are you crazy? ''KU is wrong'' you said: you are certain of that, but reach this conclusion without any details. 3. This guy who is being sued has no KU liscence and is making KU shirts, profitting from them and giving nothing to KU: KU absolutely has the right to sue this guy, and take away all of his profits from illegally sold KU merchandise. Welcome to America, KU fan. We're not in Missouri anymore.

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