‘Logo-gate’: How much it could cost Wimberley ISD to take neighbors to court over altered logo

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KXAN goes to an outside expert to weigh in on weeks-long controversy

WIMBERLEY, Texas (KXAN) — It’s being called “Logo-gate.”

The Wimberley School district has been split over a version of its logo that surfaced during Pride month.

District officials threatened legal action against those who don’t take the logo down.

Several parents received this email from the WISD superintendent on December 19th. (Courtesy: Cynthia Millonzi)

One day after their deadline, no such cease and desist letter came.

“The Constitution protects us. We have Freedom of Speech,” says Armando Perez.

The Wimberley parent is one of many who still has the altered logo on his Facebook page.

“Nobody ever complained of [the logo being altered for] a car wash or graduation cap or crosses. I guess they’re not against those things but they are against a rainbow? So, that told us that people are really hiding behind the logo to express their true feelings about things,” says Armando’s wife, Claudia Perez.

We asked an outside expert: Is using this logo without district approval illegal?

In terms of copyright law:

“It can be fair use but only if you’re using it in such a way that it’s not taking out of the pocket of the copyright holder,” says David Ludwig, a partner at Dunlap, Bennett & Ludwig law firm.

Ludwig has been in trademark and copyright litigation for 13 years nationwide.

In terms of trademark law, he says that has to do with whether or not the altered logo causes confusion in the community.

“If people in the community see it on Facebook and would automatically know this is not an official school organization; just because of the context, because of how the school board operates, because they don’t generally authorize groups like this to use it, whatever the circumstances are, then it probably would be a fair use,” Ludwig explains.

Wimberley ISD’s official logo (left) and the pride-inspired version (right). (Courtesy: ACLU-Texas)

Still, the district could take the case to court.

But Ludwig says according to the American Intellectual Property Law Association, going to trial could cost a half-million dollars or more in legal fees

“It’s a bit of a perhaps David vs. Goliath situation where the school board clearly has greater resources to pay attorneys to take such legal action if they chose to and the parents probably don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to fight this fight,” Ludwig says.

Enter: The ACLU.

It’s asking the district to recall its message by Jan. 17.

“The school board too would be then taking that money basically out of taxpayer pockets to fund that crusade, so it’s kind of lose-lose for everyone to go to court on these cases,” Ludwig explains.

Money the Perez family says the district already doesn’t have.

“For me, it’s sad that when you want to spend money for art or reading interventions we don’t have the money but when you want to fight something as ridiculous as a logo, for whatever reason they have the resources for that,” Armando says.

A spokesperson for the ACLU says they don’t know yet whether or not they will pursue a lawsuit with Wimberley ISD.

Armando and Claudia Perez are among many people who refuse to take down the rainbow logo from Facebook. They say it’s a message of support to the LGBTQ community. (KXAN/Tahera Rahman)

They say they’re waiting for the school district’s response before deciding next steps.

KXAN asked the school district Tuesday and Wednesday how much money they’ve spent on legal fees, so far.

They haven’t sent those numbers, but instead sent the following statement:

As we begin this new year, Wimberley ISD wants to bring this community together, and if any actions that we have taken contributed to any disharmony, all of us at WISD take to heart our leadership role in bringing about unity.  We ask all of you to come together to work with us to make this a priority. Our goal is to be fair and consistent with each and every student, teacher, employee, parent and community member. We know that together, we can continue to be the harmonious, inclusive and welcoming school district that attracts the best teachers and highest achieving students in the state. 

My doors are always open, and I look forward to face-to-face conversations with anyone who has concerns, ideas or solutions for making WISD better for every student.

– Dwain York, Wimberley ISD Superintendent

Confusion

On Tuesday, Jan. 7, a copy of superintendent’s Dec. 19 email warning went out to parents again.

On Wednesday, the school district issued a recall of the copy, which many parents thought meant a victory for those supporting the pride-inspired logo.

“The second email was a mistake and duplicate of the previous email, hence the recall from the superintendent’s office,” a spokesperson said.

KXAN also spoke with York, who confirmed that the district is still pursuing the matter.

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