Sunday, June 22, 2008

Department seeking win in court

Jury to hear case regarding sale of unlicensed T-shirts

Signs are posted on the door of to emphasize that the T-shirts are not licensed by Kansas Athletics Inc. Store owner Larry Sinks is headed to federal court to defend himself and his store from a suit by Kansas Athletics. The department wants Sinks to stop printing Kansas-related designs on blue T-shirts.

Signs are posted on the door of to emphasize that the T-shirts are not licensed by Kansas Athletics Inc. Store owner Larry Sinks is headed to federal court to defend himself and his store from a suit by Kansas Athletics. The department wants Sinks to stop printing Kansas-related designs on blue T-shirts.


KU athletics to take on t-shirt shop

This week, KU goes to court in a legal contest against an upstart t-shirt shop with plenty of royalties at stake. 6News business editor Mark Fagan looks for a few legal minds in this report.


Two of the T-shirts on sale at, 734 Mass.

Now that Kansas Athletics Inc. already has secured an Orange Bowl title and an NCAA basketball national championship, the protector of all things Jayhawk is playing to win on a different field of competition.

In a jury trial set to begin this week, the department hopes to convince a federal jury to order Larry Sinks to quit printing up Kansas-related designs on blue T-shirts.

The case has nothing to do with timing, officials say, and everything to do with preserving the department's right to manage, license and benefit from designs, logos, fonts and colors that together make up an image for the university and its teams.

"It's no more important now than it was a year ago or two years ago, but the success that we've enjoyed this year has certainly highlighted the importance of this issue," said Jim Marchiony, associate athletics director. "From our perspective, what's at stake is the use of our marks and the goodwill and good name of the University of Kansas. : That's what this is about."

But for Sinks, who sells unlicensed shirts online and through his shop at 734 Mass., KU's lawsuit is an assault on what he considers his First Amendment rights to say what he wants through paint screened onto a 100 percent cotton garment.

That it might just happen to say "Kansas," or perhaps include a shade of blue selected as the athletic department's own preferred hue, shouldn't matter, he said.

"We're just prepared to fight the fight," said Sinks, whose shirts became popular in recent years among KU students, who often would wear them to class, games and watch parties. "We feel it's our freedom of speech to say what we say on our shirts. :

"I'm a taxpayer in this state, and I have been for many years, and I feel I have the right to use my state name on a shirt anytime I want."


Such issues may seem simple, but there's a reason the case is headed to trial. Already, Kansas Athletics has hired legal counsel that specialize in collegiate licensing issues, and Sinks himself says he has spent nearly $300,000 on his own defense.

At its core, athletics officials argue that Sinks' shirts confuse the public into thinking the clothes are blessed by the department or university. Among examples cited as confusing by KU were blue shirts that might lead someone to believe that they were affiliated with KU's trip to the Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech.

Two specific examples feature the words "HAWK FOOTBALL" on one side, and, on the other:

¢ "Orange You Glad We're Going Bowling in Miami!" While most of the writing was in white, the letters forming "Orange" and "Bowl" were in orange.

¢ "Missouri, It's Your Turn to Pick Cotton (nice bowl game)." The Missouri Tigers played in the Cotton Bowl this year.

Another of the football shirts didn't mention anyone by name, but one side proclaimed that "Our Coach Beat Anorexia."

Kansas Athletics wants Sinks to stop making shirts that the department considers as infringing on its "marks," or trademarks that are protected by law.

"There may be some shirts that some would call distasteful that don't infringe on our marks," Marchiony said. "That's not what this is about. : This is about or marks and protecting the good name of the University of Kansas. We deal with this issue all of the time, with other entities who play by the rules.

"That's what this is about."


Sinks, in the past, has said that he had tried to secure licenses for selling KU merchandise, but had been rebuffed. So he decided to go a different route: making fun shirts that wouldn't require licenses.

None of his shirts include a Jayhawk, nor do any say "The University of Kansas." Signs posted on his door and throughout the store and on his Web site emphasize that none of the merchandise offered has been licensed by KU.

Now it will be left for a jury to decide whether his designs, colors and resulting products are treading on Kansas Athletics' legal rights, or otherwise staying just far enough away that he can follow through with plans for expanding into franchises and sales of even more shirts.

Lose, and Sinks won't be in business anymore.

"I'm kind of fighting for my life," he said. "I can't sleep. I'm not having trouble eating, but it's just wearing me to the bone. It's my entire livelihood."

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday morning.

"We feel good about our case," he said. "I'm just hoping for a group that's going to be fair - that will pay attention to what the law is and not the political side."


KEITHMILES05 12 years, 3 months ago

If this trial is held in Lawrence KU will lose.

JayViking 12 years, 3 months ago

There are some decent shirts in his store. Unfortunately, there are consistently several designs with glaring grammatical errors..specifically shirts that bash other schools (Mizzou/KSU) for being less intelligent/white trash. When presented, the employees just shrug it off like it's no big deal. I refuse to buy shirts there for that reason..that and I don't really approve of shirts that bash Mangino for being overweight. Nice taste there.

KU1979 12 years, 3 months ago

I agree -- good luck. And I don't think KU has a certain color of blue locked up either. KU is really reaching here.

pmohr13 12 years, 3 months ago

I hope he wins, his shirts are awesome. They are also pretty cheap compared to shirts that are licensed by KU

hawkfan4life 12 years, 3 months ago

I think that most of the shirts from Joe College are pretty cool and I'll be wearing them in the stands for KU sporting events again next year. I wore my Hawk Basketball "Why play with Roy when we can play with our Self" to the semifinal game in San Antonio and got lots of compliments for the creativity of the shirt.I don't know what the protocol is to get KU's licensing department to endorse merchandise, but its got to be tough to get their approval. I can recall two instances when I have been in Kansas City malls and wondered why all big 12 teams t-shirts were represented in certain stores but KU was not. When I asked the store managers they both told me it's because KU won't license their merchandise.Anyhow, Good Luck to Mr. Sinks. I hope you win!

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