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Fallout from the boom in collegiate merchandise sales

Daniel Moore, a painter who specializes in scenes of "signature moments in Alabama football history" is being sued for copyright violation by his alma mater.

Mr. Moore's paintings, reproduced in prints and on merchandise, violated the university'’s trademark rights, the suit said. It asked a federal judge to forbid him to, among other things, use the university's "famous crimson and white color scheme."

Athletes, sports leagues and universities around the nation have become increasingly aggressive in protecting what they say is their intellectual property, and their claims have met with a mixed response from judges and fans. But almost no one here thinks the suit against Mr. Moore is a good idea.

"This lawsuit is the equivalent of the Catholic Church suing Michelangelo for painting the Sistine Chapel," said Keith Dunnavant, an Alabama alumnus and the author of "Coach: The Life of Paul 'Bear' Bryant."

A university spokeswoman, Cathy Andreen, declined repeated requests for interviews with university officials and lawyers, on what she said was the advice of counsel.

James Glen Stovall, who taught journalism at the university for 25 years, said only one sort of person would support the suit.

"I can see why, if you'’re sitting in a roomful of lawyers, you might come to that conclusion," Mr. Stovall said. "But no one outside of that room would say: 'Hey, that's a good idea. Let's sue Daniel Moore.' "

This is an interesting legal conflict. Two decades ago, the revenue from college sports trademarks might not be worth protecting. But images of commercial icons are lucrative these days, and lets face it, a player in an Alabama uniform sacking the Notre Dame quarterback is an iconic and commercial figure in that state [nice painting; see the story here]. Companies like Coke and Disney have an army of lawyers protecting their copyrights trademarks to the word "Coke" and the image of Mickey Mouse. So one can understand where the University of Alabama is coming from - they want to manage and protect their brand just like Coke and Disney.

But Mr. Moore's paintings surely contribute to the lore of Alabama football. People wanting a piece of that are his customers, after all. My opinion: attempting to convert this painter's contribution into a revenue stream is a churlish (he can't use "the famous crimson and white color scheme"???) and short-sighted move by the university's lawyers, regardless of where the case sits on the edge of copyright trademark law.