Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Dueling School Mascots on T-Shirts: Yea or Nay?

Dear Rich: I have an idea for a T-shirt that would involve caricatures of two rival school's (universities - domestic, i.e., USA) team's mascots. Each mascot would, in turn, be wearing paraphernalia that identifies the respective school (possibly obscured, but arguably recognizable). Would I have to get both schools' permission (i.e., trademark licenses) in order to put such marks on such T-shirts (if, ultimately, I were to sell them)? That might be hard if one of the schools is shown in a lesser light than the other. Any thoughts?Thoughts? The Dear Rich Staff has so many thoughts it's like an ant farm inside our collective brains. But we'll try and focus on your question or we'll be late for dinner and you know how that goes. 
Short answer dept: (1) It's unlikely a school is going to consent to your t-shirt licensing proposals - most already have exclusive arrangements with manufacturers. (2) It's super-unlikely that a school will consent to sharing a co-brand arrangement with a rival. (3) It is super-super unlikely a school will authorize use of their trademark for an unflattering portrait or will permit alterations of their logos and/or mascots. You can always ask -- and maybe we're wrong -- but we don't think your use will be authorized. So that leaves you with the unauthorized route. As for parody, fair use and all that, you can give it a shot though these schools don't mess around when it comes to licensing revenue. If they find out about your use, you'