A pair of University of Arizona graduates are in a legal battle with their alma mater over the right to certain designs used on apparel they sell on a pro-UA web site.
On Friday, April 28, The Arizona Board of Regents filed a lawsuit on UA's behalf against the owners of Scumdevils.com, a Tucson-based company that was founded in 2014, over the company's use of logos and colors that resemble those of the university, including the now-famous "WC" hand gesture, on apparel sold on the site.
The 25-page complaint requests "an award of damages and relief" from Scumdevils.com at three times the actual damages incurred, and an injunction against the owners of Scumdevils.com from further copyright infringement.
"When looking at the Scumdevils' website, there is no question that their entire business is intended to try to make money from the University of Arizona's brand and reputation. UA works hard to make sure that our brand and marks stand for us, and only us," Pam Scott, associate vice president of external communications at UA, told ABC15.
"Regarding the Wildcat hand symbol, it was created by UA students, and we think it is wrong for the Scumdevils to profit from it and our other marks. The reason we had to sue was the Scumdevils' refusal to stop producing materials that look like ours."
Scumdevils.com co-owners Manuel Rocha and Francisco Jacinto are both Wildcat graduates and Tucson residents. They initially created Scumdevils.com to blog about UA athletics and poke fun at the Wildcats' rival, the Arizona State Sun Devils, as the term "Scum Devils" is often used by UA fans and alumni in an effort to mock ASU.
"It's just kind of satire, you know?" Rocha said. "I was gonna start blogging, and it evolved into more. I saw a market there -- more of a fan appreciation theme -- so that's where Scumdevils apparel kind of appeared."
As UA alums, Rocha said he and Jacinto are saddened by the lawsuit filed by his alma mater.
"We were upset being that we're UA grads, we're local, we're a small business, we're entrepreneurs, and everything that UA claims that they stood for and back up, now they're fighting against and trying to bulldoze us," he said.
It's believed that the Wildcats' "WC" hand gesture began with UA swimmer Simon Burnett in 2003 -- something UA noted in its lawsuit. (Rocha said a similar gesture was made by other schools with the nickname "Wildcats" before it became popular in Tucson, and Texas A&M used the gesture to represent their "Wrecking Crew" football defense in the 1980s.)
But when they went into business, Rocha said Scumdevils.com obtained an exclusive trademark that allows them to place a depiction of that hand gesture on merchandise as it began to sell apparel from the web site.
Soon thereafter, then-UA athletic director Greg Byrne announced UA would soon introduce the hand gesture as an official UA logo. That's when Rocha sent a letter to UA's director of trademarks and licensing, informing her that Scumdevils.com owns the trademark to the gesture.
"I sent the serial number and everything," he said.
Rocha said UA initially ignored his letter, so he sent a "final notice" to the university. "That's when we got a letter back from them, from their attorneys, kind of throwing it back on us, saying, 'No, you must cease and desist, we've had this logo for a while,' trying to make it seem like they always had the (rights to the) 'WC' hand sign," he said.
On May 10, 2016, UA sent a letter to Scumdevils.com requesting that all UA-related apparel, including items that included the hand gesture, be removed from the web site. In response, Scumdevils.com hired an attorney, who informed Rocha and Jacinto that they were within legal grounds to continue selling apparel that includes the hand sign.
"He even said -- his words -- that UA is just trying to land-seize on you guys and trying to take this from you when it’s not rightfully theirs," Rocha said. "They claim (the hand gesture) is theirs, yet they never printed it on any shirts, on any posters, on any letterhead -- nothing like that."
However, shortly after UA sent the cease-and-desist letter, the university offered to purchase the hand gesture trademark from Scumdevils.com. Rocha and Jacinto shut down their web site as the two sides entered into negotiations.
"Out of respect for their side and to respect the process, we did shut down the web site, and we kept it down until negotiations pretty much broke down," Rocha said. "They began to throw numbers out, but they were very low to the point that it didn't even cover the cost of the work or anything that we already put into this."
Scott said UA's offer was made in order to avoid the litigation that the university just filed.
"Our offer to settle was not because we thought they had (legal) grounds or that they were entitled to use that hand sign or any other logo; it was intended to avoid a lawsuit and legal expenses, which can be very costly," she said.
"That Wildcat hand symbol was created by UA students, so what our attorneys are arguing is everyone recognizes that that's a University of Arizona symbol that the students make, and we're looking that they not profit off of something that students created to celebrate other students."
Rocha and Jacinto rejected UA's final offer in February. The following month, they decided to restore Scumdevils.com and resume business.
On April 18, UA realized Scumdevils.com was back on the web, leading to the lawsuit filed 10 days later, according to Scott.
Along with the hand gesture, the lawsuit contends that merchandise depicting the Wildcat logo sold on Scumdevils.com is clearly a copyright violation.
"The cat logo is ours irrefutably, and we’re saying that the hand logo is ours because it represents The University of Arizona," Scott said.
"That’s our brand. Without The University of Arizona, that hand signal is meaningless. It’s part of our brand, and it goes back to the hand signal to celebrate the students, and we don’t like companies tainting that."
However, Rocha said UA violated his company's "WC" copyright during negotiations by licensing it to other local companies for placement on hats, shirts and other apparel.
"We thought, They're licensing a product that's not even theirs legally," he said.
Scott said UA believes it has prior rights to the trademark.
"When we offered this artwork, along with other artwork, to licensees through our trademark and licensing program, we discovered Scumdevils.com had filed a trademark for our mark. The use of this and other UA marks are the reason for our lawsuit," she said.
Rocha said he and Jacinto are exploring their options as far as how to respond to the lawsuit.
"Obviously if they take it to court, they have the board (of regents) of Arizona, so obviously they could kind of out-power us, out-money us using taxpayer money to fight us," he said. "We're a small business. Our funds are very (small) in comparison to what they have.
"The ironic part is I have my daughter, and she’s going to go (to UA) next year, so now I’m kind of like, Oh, now I’ve got to write them a check for this, too?"
But in this the case of ABOR vs. ScumDevils, LLC, Scott said UA is in the right, both legally and morally.
"We think it's important to protect our brand and our symbols, and it's inappropriate and confusing for them to use them to profit," she said.