Logo Designer and School District Have Exchanged Further Court Filings and Arguments
The Otto vs. Independent School District case (previously reported on here) unfolds further with recent updates. On January 3, 2022, Michael Otto ("Otto") filed a Complaint against the Minnesota Independent School District No. 273 (the "District") because the District started allowing third parties to use Otto's drawing of a hornet on publicly sold merchandise without his permission. The hornet in question is the school mascot for the District that Otto had designed several decades before.
The court had to look over forty years into the past to gain further information about this issue. In May, the District filed an Answer and Counterclaim in response to Otto's Complaint, denying or declining to comment on most of Otto's allegations and tracing the long history of the logo. According to the Counterclaim, in or around 1980, the Minnesota Independent School District decided to combine two of its high schools under a new mascot: the hornet. To choose the new mascot, the District held a contest where students from the District could submit designs of hornets to potentially be the new mascot for the Minnesota schools. Those who had recently graduated could apparently also submit their art in the contest—one of these submissions belonged to Michael Otto.
Otto won the contest, but there wasn't a monetary prize. The only prize was to have his work represented as a new mascot for his previous high school. Because of the circumstances, the District asserted that the contest was a work for hire situation which would give the District full rights to the winning hornet design. Further, research found that in 1981 Otto had drafted a document in which he granted the District full copyright rights. However, that same document says that the logo is not intended for public or private use. Since there are no other uses other than public or private use, this document presents a contradiction for the court, and it may not clarify the ownership issue fully. Finally, the district argued that Otto had made false assertions about his copyright registration in his complaint and has known about the uses of the logo for years and failed to file a lawsuit, giving rise to defenses of laches, lapse of the statute of limitations, and bad faith. Based on these considerations, the District urged the court to find that the logo is owned by the District and that Otto should take nothing.
In response to the counterclaim, Otto filed an Answer on October 4th, acknowledging a few relevant facts but denying most of the district's allegations and urging the court to dismiss the Counterclaim. We will provide further updates on this case as they become available.