Texas A&M Accused Of Committing Copyright Infringement In Effort To Bolster Trademark Protection For '12th Man'
from the live-by-the-ip,-die-by-the-ip dept
I’m not sure there is a more annoying group of stories about trademark protectionism than that of the “12th Man.” What most likely assume is a common term at football games, popularly denoting the impact a raucous crowd can have on the opposing team, is actually a closely guarded trademarked term of Texas A&M. So closely guarded, in fact, that the school has not only policed use of the term by other football organizations, but it has also seen fit to threaten breweries and double-amputees over their use of the term. So concerned is Texas A&M by the moral position on intellectual property, in other words, that there are no limits on how it will act to protect its trademark.
That includes violating someone else’s intellectual property, it seems. It appears the university is being sued for copyright infringement after having posted on its website a large swath of an unpublished book by an author on the history of Texas A&M, all in order to bolster its own claims on the trademark for the “12th Man.”
Alabama resident and author Michael J. Bynum sued the Texas A&M University Athletic Department, the Texas A&M University 12th Man Foundation and three school employees on Thursday in the Southern District of Texas, claiming the athletic department posted the “heart” of his unpublished book “12th Man: The Life and Legend of Texas A&M’s E. King Gill” on its website “nearly word-for-word” in January 2014 without his permission… He made several trips from Alabama to Texas, visiting Gill’s high school in Dallas and Texas A&M University where he met with Brad Marquardt and Alan Cannon, media-relations employees in the school’s athletic department.
Cannon and Marquardt are now defendants in the lawsuit.
Shortly after a follow-up email exchange to Marquardt about the book, the infringing post made up of a draft Bynum had sent to the defendants suddenly appeared on the school’s website. Gone from the post was the copyright notice Bynum had included on his draft, along with apparently any attribution to Bynum himself as the author of the work. That post was then used to bolster the ownership claim to the “12th Man” by the school against the Seattle Seahawks, with whom the school eventually worked out a licensing deal for the term. In other words, Texas A&M committed copyright infringement in order to try and protect a fairly generic trademark.
Now, in fairness to Marquardt and the school, the post was taken down when Bynum called the next day to complain. Marquardt even offered the following explanation for how this all happened in an email to Bynum.
“It was an incredibly coincidental mix-up on my part,” the email said. “I was cleaning my office, which you may recall is generally a cluttered mess. While going through files, I found a story of the 12th Man on some slightly yellowed 8.5×11 paper. I had no recollection of it [sic] origin.
Look, for the everyday man, this kind of incidental copyright infringement might seem like a reasonable mistake to have made. But, of course, this is Texas A&M we’re talking about, and the school is super into intellectual property protection. Certainly its officials ought to know better than to simply post anything they might find on yellowing printer paper that happens to be lying around the office from who-knows-where? And the taking down of the post might have been fine if the school’s post hadn’t managed to go viral almost immediately after it had been posted.
It’s sort of fun how you can pretty much set your watch to how those who are the most vociferous in protecting intellectual property will be caught violating it.