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PITTSBURGH—A Pittsburgh Steelers fan's attempt to cash in on the team's Terrible Towel has been flagged by a federal judge.
Longtime fan Eugene Barry tried to produce and sell a product dubbed The Terrible T-Shirt. However, U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Schwab ruled last week that the T-shirt bore too close a resemblance to the yellow and black hand towels that Steelers fans are famous for waving at home games.
According to court documents, Mr. Barry's product was roughly the same color yellow and emblazoned with the same stencil font that the Steelers use for their towel. The team has held exclusive license to the trademark since 1996, when the towel's originator—former team broadcaster Myron Cope—donated it to the Allegheny Valley School Foundation, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that provides residential care for the developmentally challenged.
Upon inquiry, Mr. Barry allegedly told the company that printed the shirts, National Retail Graphics, that he had secured permission to make and sell the shirts from the foundation.
The team and the foundation denied ever granting Mr. Berry permission to produce the T-shirts. In a lawsuit filed in August, the Steelers alleged that it would be too easy for fans to confuse the shirts for officially licensed Steelers merchandise, constituting a violation of trademark law.
In his decision last week, Judge Schwab agreed with the team, noting that the “utilization of the word ‘terrible' along with similar coloring and a reference to “a Pittsburgh original” is an apparent attempt to create confusion as to the T-shirts' source.”
“Actual confusion in this case is demonstrated by the National Retail Graphic's employee…immediately questioning Mr. Berry concerning his connection with Allegheny Valley School when Berry attempted to have the T-shirts produced,” Judge Schwab wrote.
Judge Schwab granted the team's motion for summary judgment, barring Mr. Berry from selling the T-shirts or claiming to be connected in any way to the team or the Allegheny Valley School Foundation.
He also awarded the team damages pursuant to federal trademark infringement law.