They are mercenaries, says KC principal; attorney warns offenders could end up in prison

Annually, student athletes score major points at the ISSA/ GraceKennedy Boys' and Girls' Championships, but ultimately, schools lose big time from the illegal sale of branded memorabilia and paraphernalia.

Supporters are often seen in droves, donned in headbands, armbands, T-shirts and school ties, among other things, with the colours, names, slogans and crests of competing schools imprinted.

But the schools often time do not reap the monetary benefits, which could be used to better fund their athletics programmes, due to widescale trademark infringement of their brands.

Dave Myrie, principal of Kingston College (KC), told the Jamaica Observer that his institution has been a regular victim.

"I think we suffer from it big time. There are many times that persons send stuff to me and ask me if I'm aware of it; flyers that are saying get whatever at X amount, and sometimes those flyers are saying that proceeds go to the school. Nothing like that happens at all. They call themselves entrepreneurs...I can call them mercenaries as well. They just utilise the school for their own benefit," he said.

MYRIE... they call themselves entrepreneurs... I can call them mercenaries as well.

"Many of these persons are selling gear in the various school crests and stuff and the school is not getting any benefit from that. All they have done is capitalise on the brand, capitalise on the hype and the fame of the school whether it be champs or football. They just want to make some money out of it. That's what they do."

Myrie added that KC has a memorabilia shop that remains active throughout the year. He noted that particular merchandise is made for major sporting events like the Boys' Championships to serve as a fund-raiser.

As a result, he said the administration has been discussing ways to treat with the loss that is almost expected every year.

"Obviously, you've copyrighted all of these things. If you were to properly defend it, you would be putting out lawsuits left, right and centre every minute of the day because everywhere you go downtown, there is paraphernalia for all the schools," he told Sunday Observer.

ROBINSON... there are major stores in the country selling our Jamaica College merchandise and our lawyers are going to deal with it

"In fact, they will come to your gate. I pass Calabar [High School] every morning and there are people out there selling armbands and that sort of stuff. Calabar is not benefiting from that at all. If you really want to support the school, purchase your merchandise there. But at the end of the day, the argument will be everybody is trying to find a way to make money and make ends meet," Myrie continued.

David Miller, president of the Calabar Old Boys' Association (COBA), said a memorabilia store on the school compound offers original Calabar high-branded products. The sale of these products supports the school's various sporting programmes and when that flow of income is cut, there are ripple effects that plague the lives of student athletes.

Miller said effort has been made to prevent the distribution of illegal paraphernalia, but admitted that tracking and locating those distributors is difficult.

"We are aware that it is happening. Persons are selling Calabar-branded items and purporting that it is on behalf of Calabar, or that a portion of the sales go to Calabar. That is why several years ago we registered certain taglines, our logo and our crest under the relevant copyright laws to protect our name. Notwithstanding this, the practice has still continued," he told the Sunday Observer.

Calabar OBA president David Miller admits that tracking and locating illegal distributors was difficult.

"By and large, Calabar gets nothing from any of these items. We try to educate students and parents to buy from the store on the compound. That is why we set up the store, so people can get the products directly. So, when vendors sell unauthorised items on the street it takes away from money that could be coming to support the same programme that the Calabar fans would like to support," he added, noting that supporters sometimes are unaware that the vendors are not authorised.

Miller said there is only one supplier authorised to sell Calabar products, "but that entity shows us the items and we have to verify the quality to ensure that it does not come in conflict with the basic values of Calabar."

Wayne Robinson, principal of Jamaica College (JC), said the school is aware of established stores that have been selling branded merchandise, and lawyers have been informed.

"There are major stores in the country selling our Jamaica College merchandise and our lawyers are going to deal with it. One of our leading stores has our merchandise there on sale, wide open. It hasn't come from us, it hasn't come with our permission and so, we just have to deal with it," Robinson told the Sunday Observer.

PENNYCOOK... we always seek to encourage partnerships rather than having persons use those things willingly

When outsiders profit off the school's image, Robinson said, it is a significant loss to the school.

"Our supporters and our stakeholders support the school by buying our merchandise that we gain income from. If somebody cuts into that, then it affects all the aspects of the school. A lot of this merchandise supports the sporting teams, supports staff, and supports all aspects of the school. Remember, there is no support from ministry [of education] for co-curricular activities," he said.

"The school budgets for sports, and you're talking about track and field, football, basketball, tennis, lacrosse, and then you go into other things like debating, Schools' Challenge Quiz, our robotics team is leaving for the World Championships in a couple of weeks all of that is not sponsored by anything else except for our own sponsors and our own income."

He argued that those who offer school-branded items for sale should face the law.

Feurtado-Pryce says St Jago not 'significantly' affected.

"It is not a joke. People can't just take your things like that. I can't take Bob Marley or Usain Bolt's things and just go out on the road and start sell it. You can't take Nike's logo and just start selling Nike's logo on the road."

According to the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office, a trademark is a sign that is graphically represented and capable of distinguishing the goods or services of a person, company or legal entity from those of another. A trademark can be comprised of words, letters, numbers, designs, names, slogans, symbol, colours, images, and packaging.

Attorney-at-law Trevor Cuff warned that those found in breach could face prison time if they are brought before the criminal court.

"Ultimately, that would be up to the court. But it also depends on how the case was brought. If it's brought through the criminal court, then that is where you will be talking about potential imprisonment and criminal fines," Cuff explained.

Kingston College fans showing off their jerseys. (Photo: Bryan Cummings)

"If it is brought through the civil court, it would be about getting compensation for the right holder."

Cuff also urged administrations to ensure that brands are "properly protected" and registered to the respective schools.

"If there is a particular slogan — KC has 'Fortis', Calabar has 'Rabalac' — they might want to go the route of copyright. In terms of enforcement, once it is that you identify where there is a breach, they can take it either through the criminal or civil realm," he told the Sunday Observer.

Through the civil realm, Cuff said schools would essentially write to the party found in breach and, depending on the response, arrangements could be made for compensation.

Calabar in the 'thick' of things.

The infringement and loss of income, however, is not much of a problem at some schools.

Collette Feurtado-Pryce, principal of St Jago High School, said, "We are not significantly affected."

Wolmer's Boys' School is more vigilant and does not face some of the pressures that other schools are facing.

"The Wolmer's schools and the Wolmer's Trust in particular have set in place certain parameters for persons who wish to use the crest, and so, any person or merchandiser who would wish to do so would have to have the expressed permission from the Wolmer's Trust," Principal Dwight Pennycook said.

Wolmer's never to be left out.

"Anything outside of that is liable for some kind of action. And so, we always seek to encourage partnerships rather than having persons use those things willingly. They are given the possibility of option."

Nonetheless, Pennycook told the Sunday Observer that he knew the issue existed, "but I was pleasantly surprised the range that was available downtown. And not just the shirts, but the other kinds of merchandise that they have available."

Meanwhile, Myrie gave the example of a school selling a shirt for $3,000, whilst "a man has a shirt that looks like it selling for $500 or $1,000."

"People tend to gravitate towards the cheaper item. At the end of the day, the school's product is a better quality and because of the processes we have to go through, it couldn't be for $500. When a school is selling memorabilia, a part of those proceeds go back to help the same programmes that the school has to expend so much on," he told the Sunday Observer.

All decked out in purple and white, Kingston College style...cane included.

"Like Calabar, we get ripped off so frequently," Myrie went on. "The frightening thing about this is that some of our own past students are doing it. And many people are innocent buyers because they will say, 'It's KC and Calabar.' They don't know that not even a cent goes back to the school."

See related story:

No room in the inn; Schools book out lower-cost lodgings for Champs

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