Heisman Trophy Trust sues website over copyright, trademark infringement

The Heisman Trophy Trust filed a lawsuit against a website for prominently using photos of its trophy.
The Heisman Trophy Trust filed a lawsuit against a website for prominently using photos of its trophy.

The Heisman Trophy Trust filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the operators of the Heisman Watch website and its social media accounts for “irreparable harm” related to copyright and trademark infringement.

The lawsuit was filed in Manhattan against heismanwatch.com which includes @heismanwatch on Facebook, @Heismanology1 on Twitter, accounts on Google+ and Pinterest, and a Heisman Watch podcast. Chase Leavitt, Joseph Middleton and Kimball Dean Parker are listed on the lawsuit as the defendants.

The Heisman Trophy Trust v…. by on Scribd

What does Heisman Watch do?

The accounts use a “Heisman Calculator” regression model partially based on player and voter data from past years to predict the winner of the annual award given to the best player in college football.

It predicted Baker Mayfield would win the 2017 Heisman Trophy by 1,073 points. It was nearly dead-on as he won by 1,098, within the margin of error. The website said it has had greater accuracy than ESPN and USAToday for three years.

The website also offers insight and analysis on Heisman hopefuls with conference “week in reviews.”

Why is the Heisman Trust suing?

The lawsuit is focused primarily on Heismanwatch.com’s “prominent” and “unauthorized” use of “names, words, marks and images that are identical or confusingly similar to the HEISMAN Marks and the HEISMAN Copyright, both historically and currently.”

The Trust accused the site of violating its “exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute and otherwise exploit the HEISMAN Copyright,” thereby causing “irreparable harm” by confusing fans and creating deception. The lawsuit alleges it looks as though there is a connection between the Trust and Heismanwatch.com, as there is between the Trust and ESPN. ESPN is a licensee and therefore free to publish a “Heisman Watch.”

The Trust spends more than $650,000 a year to advertise and promote the award on top of all of the unsolicited free press it receives, according to the suit.

“This exposure, year after year, has resulted in consumers recognizing the Heisman Trophy award as emanating from a single source, the Trust,” according to the lawsuit.

The heismanwatch.com website uses a photo of fans as its banner background, immediately under which is a banner stating “Heisman Watch is in no way affiliated with the Heisman Trophy Trust.”

Is this lawsuit like the Oscars Watch one?

The Hollywood Reporter compared the lawsuit to a similar one in the entertainment industry.

“The lawsuit may be taking a page from the playbook of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which once sued over OscarsWatch.com and got the site’s name changed to Awards Daily,” it reported Thursday.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences filed against the operator of oscarwatch.com in 2007 for trademark infringement based on the use of Oscar in the web address. Oscarwatch.com used the “fair use” defense.

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