Artist battles Alabama over football paintings

Published February 02, 2012

| Associated Press

Daniel Moore made a name for himself drawing iconic images of famous University of Alabama sporting events. But his work has also drawn the ire of school administrators, who claim his artistry violates the trademark rights they jealously work to protect.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta heard arguments on Thursday in the case, part of an ongoing legal feud between universities seeking greater control over their copyright rights and artists who claim free speech rights.

Moore, who lives in Birmingham, Ala., has long worked with the school to draw iconic images that commemorate some of Alabama's biggest sporting events. But the school and Moore broke ties after a falling out around 2000, and five years later Alabama brought the case to federal court by suing Moore.

The school said it was forced to target Moore and his company, New Life Art, in 2005 because the artist profited from the university's name by refusing to pay licensing fees that fund student scholarships. At Thursday's hearing, the university argued its right to protect its trademark should trump Moore's First Amendment rights to paint scenes from Alabama football games.

Moore and his attorneys countered that his artwork, which includes paintings, prints and drawings on coffee mugs, is protected free speech and shouldn't be restricted by trademark law. He hasn't stopped his work, and is now working on a painting called "The Shutout" from Alabama's 21-0 victory last month over LSU in the national championship game.

A federal judge reached a split decision in 2009. The judge found that Moore's larger prints are protected by free speech rights, but that mini-prints on coffee mugs and calendars were not. Both sides promptly appealed, setting the stage for Thursday's arguments.

The three-judge panel didn't immediately issue a ruling on Thursday, and any decision it makes will be closely watched by university officials, media organizations and intellectual property attorneys, who all have a stake in the outcome.

Some 27 universities filed court briefs backing Alabama's stance, arguing that licensing programs are necessary to protect trademarks and provide an important source of revenue at a time of budget cuts.

"A bedrock principle of trademark law is an owner's right to control the use of its marks," the schools said in the brief.

Media organizations have flocked to Moore's defense. A friend-of-the-court brief filed by the American Society of Media Photographers and the Alabama Press Association claimed Moore was expressing the culture of his surroundings, much like Claude Monet was inspired by water lilies in France and Pieter Bruegel was moved to portray peasants in Belgium.

"Daniel Moore lives in Alabama; he paints football," the brief said. "To say football is special in Alabama is to understate the state's passion for and interest in it — not by inches, but by yards."

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