Pensioner sues Wolverhampton Wanderers over design of logo
13 June 2019
Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club have succeeded in defending a copyright claim in which the claimant contended that he designed their distinctive wolf head logo over 40 years ago.
The claimant, Peter Davies, contended that he was the rightful author of the club’s well known logo stating that he originally submitted the design to an art competition in 1963. The claimant alleged he was aware of the club using his design as far back as 1979 but had had no proof of his authorship of the design until he found the original amongst his deceased brother’s possessions in 2015.
Wolves for their part had been using a version of their current logo since 1979 when the club commissioned a graphic designer, Ian Jackson, to revamp their brand. The logo was subsequently slightly redesigned in 2002 but the essential characteristics of the design remained the same. Mr Davies’ case was that Mr Jackson had, either intentionally or subconsciously, copied his original design when asked to recreate the football club’s logo. Mr Davies alleged that his original wolf head design was entered into an art competition at a local gallery in 1963, and that this was how such copying could have occurred. Mr Jackson gave evidence and categorically stated that he had never seen Mr Davies’ design and adduced evidence of the process he undertook when designing Wolves a new logo in 1979.
Did copyright infringement take place?
Whilst conceding that Mr Davies’ childhood drawings did bear a striking similarity to Mr Jackson’s eventual design of the logo for Wolves, the judge in the case found against Mr Davies. Three key points militated against the possibility of Mr Jackson having copied Mr Davies work.
First, the artworks adduced in evidence by Mr Davies had never been placed in the public domain (but were alleged by witnesses to be typical of the types of drawings that he made at the time). The judge, therefore had to rely on witness evidence that the drawings in evidence were similar to a work Mr Davies submitted to a public art contest. There was no way in which the original artwork displayed publicly could be accurately recreated.
Secondly, the judge found that the passage of almost 50 years since the events in question had rendered Mr Davies’ memory of events unreliable. The judge noted that at various points over the years preceding the case Mr Davies had given differing accounts of which competition his work had been entered into, and therefore where it may or may not have been seen by Mr Jackson or someone associated with either Mr Jackson or the football club.
Finally, even if a strikingly similar art work by Mr Davies had been displayed in public it did not follow that either direct or indirect copying could be made out. The judge felt that it stretched credulity that the organiser of a school art contest may have held on to a Mr Davies work for fourteen years and then subsequently passed this design to Mr Jackson to copy directly when he was designing a new logo for the club. Likewise the delay of 14 years between any event where it was possible Mr Jackson could have seen Mr Davies’ work and the point he designed the new football club logo left too many un-evidenced assumptions to be made to establish that Mr Jackson had ever seen Mr Davies’ work, and that as a result unconscious copying had occurred in this case.
This case again highlights that even a striking similarity between works is not enough to prove that copying, and, therefore, copyright infringement has taken place. A claimant needs to be able to adduce at least some credible evidence that there has been copying of their work in order to establish their case.
You can read the full judgment here.