Designer of a Bush logo seeks a 'W' in courtroom: RNC denies ripping off his copyrighted idea for a popular campaign sticker
(Houston Chronicle (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Sep. 9--This lawsuit was brought to you by the letter W.
The wildly popular oval "W" stickers sported nationwide by supporters of President Bush's 2004 re-election bid are at the center of a federal copyright case in Texarkana. This week, a judge set a Nov. 7 trial date.
Jerry Gossett of Wichita Falls claims the stickers are based on his idea, which he copyrighted in 2001. He accuses the Republican National Committee and campaign material maker Spalding Group of stealing his concept after he pitched it to them.
A plaintiff's expert has estimated damages at $100 million, defense attorneys said. The RNC and Louisville, Ky.-based Spalding Group deny the allegations and are preparing to fight it out at Texarkana's federal courthouse.
"I don't think that two people could look at both of these logos and say one was copied from the other," said Ted Jackson, founder of Spalding Group, which has produced materials for GOP presidential campaigns since 1984. "They're just completely, totally dissimilar."
Gossett's design, which his attorney said was inspired by the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, shows a serifed capital W and a period, a twice-creased U.S. flag flying slightly downward from the W's right side, and the number 43, representing Bush's place in the line of American presidents.
The 2004 campaign sticker features a block W with a twice-creased flag flying straight out of its right side. Underneath the flag is the campaign year, '04, slightly italicized.
Rejected by committee
"(Gossett) came up with this design, went to an attorney and got it copyrighted," said William Altman, the Wichita Falls lawyer representing Gossett's company, Rally Concepts. "He showed it to representatives of the RNC in Austin at a meeting and was later told they couldn't use his design."
Gossett ran it past Spalding Group without success and, in 2003, then-RNC chairman Ed Gillespie, who initially expressed interest before sending a letter saying the committee wasn't going to use it, the lawsuit said. In a court filing, the RNC confirms the meeting.
It took more than rejection to anger Gossett, his attorney said.
"Thereafter, he received in the mail a similar design as part of a fundraising thing and became upset," said Altman, who said his client was a Republican who attended the 2005 inauguration despite the perceived copyright infringement.
Gossett vetted his case with copyright and intellectual property experts before filing suit last year, Altman said. Texarkana, where Bill Clinton appointee David Folsom presides as the federal judge, has a reputation as a plaintiff-friendly venue, but Altman said he simply sought a speedy docket.
George McWilliams, a Texarkana attorney for the Republican National Committee, said his client has no place in the lawsuit and is "disappointed" Folsom didn't throw it out.
If there was any letter-stealing at all, Jackson asserts, it was on Gossett's part.
"In the official George W. Bush for President logo, started in the fall of 1999 up until the (2000 Republican) convention ... the W-dot is exactly in the same font that Mr. Gossett chose to use," Jackson said. "There are over 5,000 different fonts available in the marketplace, and Mr. Gossett somehow chose to use that exact font."
The popular W sticker in question was the brainchild of an Austin graphics designer in 2004, according to Spalding Group. Once they proved to be hot items, the company began reproducing them in cooperation with the creator and the Bush campaign.
Furthermore, Jackson said neither Gossett's 2001 design or the oval stickers in 2004 were the first to emphasize Bush's middle initial -- Spalding Group distributed a "W. 2000" logo as early as 1999.
"Our position is the W itself is not protectable. The flag is not protectable," Jackson said.
Jackson also questions Gossett's motives for the original copyright on Oct. 9, 2001, saying it appears the plaintiff was hoping to cash in on emotions from the terrorist attacks.
Altman concedes Gossett was looking to make money.
"All I can say is Jeff has been a lifelong Republican and I wouldn't have been surprised to see those proceeds, or a good bit of them, donated back to the Republican Party," Altman said. "Jerry wasn't trying to make a huge amount of money around the whole thing."
After seeing the $100 million damage figure floated by a plaintiff's expert, however, Jackson said he has doubts.
"I feel like I'm in an Austin Powers movie," Jackson said, referring to the the comic villain Dr. Evil's unfathomable demand in the second movie for "100 billion dollars" in 1960s America. Jackson said his company made $42,665 from selling "hundreds of thousands" of stickers.
The design is no longer for sale, replaced by black stickers dominated by a classical white "W," with "The President" spelled underneath.
The lawsuit lingers, though.
"It's a horrible experience. You're caught in the undertow of a lawsuit that has no merit," Jackson said.
Altman's definition of horrible differs, describing how his client helplessly watched his idea mushroom into one of the most prolific pieces of campaign advertising in recent memory.
'K' is OK
While this consonantal divide lurches toward a courtroom showdown in the northeasternmost corner of Texas, another variation on the theme is marking car windows and bumpers around the state.
Independent gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman is hawking black stickers with a large white "K" -- similar to the current "W" model -- followed by "For Governor."
Asked whether he'd consider suing, Jackson said imitation is the sincerest form of flattery in the political promotions business.
"I can assure you we will not be bringing a lawsuit against Kinky Friedman," Jackson said. "Please express to him he has our full support in using that logo."
Copyright (c) 2006, Houston Chronicle
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.
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