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Friday, October 9, 2009

Joe-College.com argues judge’s ruling would mean end to T-shirt company

Joe-College.com is fighting the decision from courts to pay the University of Kansas more than $600,000. The business argued the legal fees will be a death sentence for the local shop.

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Defense attorneys are calling it the “legal and economic equivalent of the death penalty” for a Lawrence T-shirt retailer.

The owners of Joe-College.com are asking a federal judge to reconsider her recent ruling, ordering them to pay $667,507 in attorneys fees and expenses to Kansas Athletics Inc. The expenses were amassed during a court case over KU-themed T-shirts that Joe-College.com was selling.

“I just wanted to make sure that some of the things we felt were important as part of this issue were things that (U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson) was able to give full consideration to,” said Jim Tilly, an attorney for Larry Sinks, an owner of the store, 734 Mass.

In the motion, Tilly and attorney Cody Robertson argue that Robinson must reconsider her order because she “made findings of fact that are not supported by the record.” The defense asks that she reverse the decision to award legal fees to KU.

Robinson ruled in late September that Sinks, Clark Orth and Victory Sportswear LLC — collectively known as Joe-College.com — must cover Kansas Athletics’ costs in the case brought against the store for trademark infringement.

“(Their filing) is not surprising considering the amount the judge awarded us,” said Jim Marchiony, a KU associate athletics director.

A jury in 2008 found that 53 of the 206 Joe-College T-shirt designs in question infringed upon or diluted KU’s trademarks. After the verdict, Sinks and his group were responsible for paying $127,000 in penalties for selling shirts that jurors said could be confused with official KU-licensed merchandise.

Attorneys for Sinks say the verdict is important because jurors found KU was entitled to recover damages on only a quarter of the shirts presented in the July trial.

“The jury rejected KU’s claims regarding the remaining shirts, and in doing so, sent a message that Joe College should remain in business,” defense attorneys wrote. “Ironically, by awarding KU $667,507.42 in attorneys’ fees and expenses, the court may have delivered a crushing blow to defendants from which there is no possibility of recovery.”

The attorneys also argue that Sinks did not intentionally infringe of KU’s trademarks and that early on he relied on an attorney’s advice on which shirts to stop manufacturing due to KU trademarks and which ones were OK.

Both sides in the case have filed appeals. KU is appealing the jury’s original verdict, and Sinks was already trying to reduce the original penalty from the verdict.

Comments

cwag 10 years, 3 months ago

Say goodnight, Joe. Next time,obey the law, or work to change it.

theajayhawk 10 years, 3 months ago

Agree. You were given plenty of warnings and you CHOSE to break the law. And now you try to play the sympathy card.

rockchalkAZ 10 years, 3 months ago

none of you people have any idea how much we college kids like the joe college shirts. i hope it stays in business.

cwag 10 years, 3 months ago

AZ - The money Sinks stole came out of KU's pockets, which means (if you're a student) it came out of yours. Your T-shirt cost more than you realize.

woodhawk 10 years, 3 months ago

cwag- The University and the AD are doing just fine in terms of cash flow. I, for one, feel like the trademark law is a bit ridiculous and was slightly abused by the university. There were some shirts that were definitely questionable, but that in no way means the university would have profited had Sinks not been able to sell them. The man stole nothing. He's simply a businessman, taking advantage of a particular market situation. No one can, or should, blame him for that. Does everyone who has ever produced and sold a blue t-shirt with the word "Kansas" across the chest owe the school money? Quit being so damned dramatic. Sinks cost the school pennies, if anything. Because of some of the questionable shirts, the university realized it would never win a defamation or wrongful representation suit, so it came with the trademark law. Wise choice, but don't for a second think that this whole thing has been about the color blue and the word "Kansas".

JayViking 10 years, 3 months ago

AZ are you kidding? All other issues notwithstanding, their shirts suck. A lot.

Robert Brock 10 years, 3 months ago

Sinks did not accidentally cross the line. He is a thief.

kvskubball 10 years, 3 months ago

Don't do the crime if you can't pay the fine!

swkhawk24 10 years, 3 months ago

AZ I agree with you. Me being a student as well I think this is a terrible decision because it will put Joe College out of business. I'd like to hear more students opinion on this because we are the ones that really matter. We are the ones who pay thousands of dollars of tuition each semester. I personally love Joe College and their shirts, any STUDENT disagree? This is just KU being jealous and flexing their muscles. Does KU really need that money? 667,000 dollars isn't really much compared to the millions they are getting from us and from the athletic teams. So much for the hometown businesses, this makes me sick to my stomach. Go Joe College! If they do have to pay the money and go out of business, which I hope they don't, how about we use the money to clean up Potter Lake or something like that.

kmatlage 10 years, 3 months ago

woodhawk is right here guys. I would be supportive of the AD if there was a lot more infringement or that was even the actual reason they were going after him. The truth though is that they didn't like some of his shirts that were actually legal (namely of the Muck Fizzou variety), so they brought this suit to try to get rid of him. It had nothing to do with the slight amount of money they might be losing. Most of his shirts wouldn't be sold by KU anyway. The AD isn't exactly losing any money on Muck Fizzou sales or any of those type of shirts.

Whether you like the shirts or not, whether you choose to wear the shirts or not (I don't), you can't say he's a bad person just for wanting to fill the Missouri/KSU bashing niche. And if we're going to be honest with ourselves, that's really why he got targeted. He was stupid to have infringing shirts, yeah, and he should get rid of those, but can we please stop pretending like that's really what this is about? That's naive at best given that this suit was brought forth shortly after the KUAD tried to get students to stop wearing the Muck Fizzou shirts to games. And sorry, but saying he was warned multiple times... please recognize that he would have had to stop selling almost all of his shirts to make KU happy, including the legal ones. Even if he had gotten rid of every single one of the shirts the jury said infringed, KU would still have come after him because that's not what they really wanted.

I support KU upholding its trademarks. If that was all this was about or most of the shirts were infringing, then I would be all for it. As it is, I don't support them using it as a front to put a man out of business simply because they don't like what he does. That should be up to the demand of the consumers, not KU.

Jaminrawk 10 years, 3 months ago

Those shirts were stupid. Some of them had horrible grammar mistakes too, which should show how "first class" that place was.

prairie_rattler 10 years, 3 months ago

I can appreciate the Joe-College T-shirts... but the State of Kansas/University of Kansas/taxpayers should not have to pay for KUs legal fees, once he was found guilty.

Mackadoo 10 years, 3 months ago

This is one KU student (among many) who won't be sad to see these embarrassing, tasteless shirts go.

KUGreenMachine 10 years, 3 months ago

1/4th guilty = 1/4th legal fees....

btw, $660,000...pretty empressive lawyer to only get Joe College charged on 1/4th the shirts! hahah

Joel Hood 10 years, 3 months ago

In prior stories I have expressly stated why Joe College & Larry Sinks is in the wrong, so I won't be redundant. But, some of you defending him have obviously not read the ruling and simply "feel sorry" for Sinks because you think his shirts are clever. Sorry, but this is not “about the students.”

The $670K judgment against him is for plaintiff attorney fees. This was awarded to KU because this case CLEARLY fell into the categorization of exceptional. The judge ruled this because of Larry Sinks own testimony. Sink came right out and admitted that he continued to use imagery and words that he knew associated his shirts with KU because they would sell better. Knowing and willful violation of KU trademarks for profit legally entitles KU to have Sinks pay their attorney fees. This is a no brainer. Please read the ruling if you think I am making this up.

I love a lot of JC shirts. They are clever, funny and inexpensive. But, he knowingly and willfully drew this attention to himself so that he could sell more shirts. His attorneys must have advised him that he might end up paying KU’s legal bill. He gambled that he would make more money in spite of the ruling against him. He played with fire and he got burned. Don’t blame KU for Joe College going out of business. I have not one ounce of pity for Sinks. He has been in the t-shirt business and long time; he was warned a long time ago to stop and he didn’t. He made the choice – not KU.

woodhawk 10 years, 3 months ago

I'm not at all saying Sinks is innocent. It should be fairly obvious that he is not. In my argument above, I just tried to highlight some of the bad logic people are using against Sinks. It can be an emotional topic, simply because some people just don't like the guy, so they spout off a knee-jerk reaction like he's "stealing" money from the school. My post above aimed simply to deface these comments as misguided and shed some light on the real reason the suit was brought against him.
Sinks was warned several times and failed to oblige. He dug his own grave. But as I said before, don't for a second believe this was about trademark issues. It was more about the reputation of the university and the athletics dept. than anything else. Obviously, the university has a right and a duty to defend that. Just trying to bring some rational thoughts here.

Dick Murdock 10 years, 3 months ago

It's apparent - KU's lawyers can eat Sink's lawyers.

Lonnie Ross Dillon 10 years, 3 months ago

1) By law, if you don't defend your trademarks, you lose them. 2) OK, so you like the shirts, so that you make excuse breaking the law? 3) Sure some of the shirts were tasteless, but they cast a bad light on KU. Of course they are going to try and stop him. Duh.

Law is the law. Either follow it or be prepared to pay the consequence.

gardenjay 10 years, 3 months ago

Just as I predicted before - this is just the beginning of a long and special Joe College + KU relationship. See posts on previous Joe article. So here goes again:

KU will never be getting the $667,000 they spent on this back, and KU has clearly spent well over this amount at this moment based on the noted activity, as should have been admitted in this article. It is so unlikely that any of the money now or into the future will ever actually be returned or 'awarded' to KU that you have to wonder about the sanity of people who discuss the word 'award' as if it means AWARD.

From past experience, if KU does not settle, this will stay in the courts for years and probably cost KU millions more dollars. Attorneys will go ahead and collect those fees, because they can. Don't you never fergit, now.

Who cares if KU's attorneys 'win'. Both sets of attorneys are making a living - both sets win even when they lose. Sad to see the rah rah KU posts on this subject, when KU is the one and only loser here.

My explanation, Sports Fans, is that this is not at all like rooting for KU. In lawsuits, the losers can easily be the winners, particularly monetarily, but in other ways too. Look at the facts. Joe College will never pay the consequence - it seems this is kind of understood by posters. Also, his attorney fees are comparatively inexpensive as one could imagine. They are there to buy Joe time, so that basically Joe can still leading the life of a T-shirt shop owner, and he is not far from that life under these circumstances. This court case certainly generated publicity for him, and if he has any brains that should be more $$ for Joe College, again which he will not pay to KU. Joe needs to eat, Joe must pay his mortgage, gas for the car! In the end, KU, you are so, so, so losing. The KUAD knows they are losing, but as Woodhawk points out, this wasn't about trademark law, it was about image (power and control. Go, KUAD, Go!).

True, there are good attorneys; one of our own just won the Nobel Peace Prize. Pretty cool. But the court culture is a horrible mess, and I will leave on that note and let my words end in cyberspace to be stabbed by self-entitled bad attorneys until they become mere letters again, then carefully cut by them into individual atoms, and after that smashed by them to quarks, finally dispersed by them into our vacuous society to die a horrible death......

rockchalkAZ 10 years, 3 months ago

if he goes out of business, i'm gonna go buy some of that paper you print onto then iron on to a tshirt and make my own. and then sell them underground, and make some $$$. surely ku won't bully a poor 21 year old college student by suing him for making tshirts in his bedroom.

i'm serious. it's gonna be awesome.

swkhawk24 10 years, 3 months ago

i will never buy a ku licensed product ever again. i did it last semester but never again. this is ridiculous. i'll either buy from joe college (if they are still in business) or buy from AZ. the ku gear at the union's suck anyway. rock chalk new generation hawk.

JayhawkDynasty 10 years, 3 months ago

Sinks clearly was wrong to ignore the warnings the University gave him. However, I fail to see how anyone can truly blame him for competing with other products (those available through KU's overpriced bookstores). What Sinks was doing was clearly a business decision that so many business owners do. He provided a unique, clever product that was clearly distinguishable from officially licensed KU products. I will admit I don't agree with the degrading nature of some of the shirts and I do think that the University is right to sue for shirts such as "muck fizzou" or "our coach can eat your coach". Regardless, as woodhawk said, this lawsuit is not over a trademark infringement. This is about KU getting rid of defaming slogans on t-shirts. If KU is so concerned about the reputation of the University and athletic department, I suggest they take the $667,000 Sinks "owes" them and figures out a way to clean up the act of their student-athletes. I don't think that anyone would disagree that the past few weeks have defaced our University more than these shirts. This whole situation makes me sick. I hope Sinks isn't hurt too much financially by this. Go Sinks. Go capitalism. Go KU.

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