Spinning a basketball on your finger is an art. Try printing that art on paper, however, and the Roguish wrath of the Harlem Globetrotters will land on you like a bucket of water from the traveling hoopsters’ routines.
No joke. Artist Ray Noland founded GoTellMama!, a Chicago-based campaign that makes art in support of hometown Sen. Barack Obama. One of Noland’s most popular prints depicts a finger spinning a red-white-and-blue basketball with “Obama 08” on the side. But last week, while setting up his gallery opening at Art 323 (323 NW 6th Ave.) in Portland, Noland received a cease-and-desist letter from ’Trotters attorney Julian Petty.
“It has recently come to our attention that gotellmama.org has unlawfully used the Property Rights of Owner without its authorization (specifically, making use of Owner’s “finger spinning ball” trademark),” the letter says. “Such continued unauthorized use of Owner’s Property Rights constitutes a violation of various jurisdictional laws both in the U.S. and abroad.”
The Globetrotters’ argument against Noland “fails the basic test of trademark infringement,” says Chuck McClung, managing partner of Chernoff, Vilhauer, McClung & Stenzel LLP, a Portland-based firm specializing in intellectual property law.
In legalese, there is no “likelihood of confusion” between Noland’s design and the ’Trotters’ logo because someone seeing Noland’s piece would not infer the ’Trotters were supporters of Obama, says McClung.
Sadly, Noland’s finger-spinning art will be taken down because he doesn’t have the time or money to fight the Globetrampling. Noland makes between $15,000 and $25,000 a year, and the ’Trotters made an estimated $5.8 million in sales in 2007.
Petty refused to speak on the record with WW. Our call? It’s easy—flagrant foul on the ’Trotters.