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The geometric wolf a plagiarism? The copyright dispute over the logotype of the Premiership football club

A trial which may create a great deal of trouble for one of the Premier League clubs has just started in London. After a freshly won Premiership promotion the Wolverhampton Wanderers must face charges of infringement of rights to the Mystery Wolf, which has been the Wolves’ logo almost uninterruptedly since 1979.[1]

Everything started in the 1960-ties when at the request of his French teacher, as a punishment, the teenage Peter Davies was made to illustrate his understanding of Pascal’s theorem. Davis’ work was based on a series of geometrically designed drawings of animals’ heads, including one which is misleadingly similar to the present logo of the Wolverhampton Wanderers.

In 1963 Peter participated in an art competition organised by the local speedway club and submitted his work entitled „Mystery Wolf”. Despite no success in the art competition someone must have noticed the potential of his drawing because in 1979 Davis discovered the similarity between his design and the new Wolves’ logo. He gave up pursuing his rights because he got no answer from the club, and more importantly, the drawing which could serve as key evidence was not returned to him after the competition.

The situation changed in 2015 when Davies was cleaning up his deceased brother’s house and found all his old works in his brother’s stamp album, as well as information about the competition and the original sketch of the wolf. The author now bases his claim for breach of copyright on this sketch

The respondent’s position is interesting, as the club claims that the „original work does not exist. What exists are sketches. He [Davies] has no proof documenting the work or its existence”. If we examine these considerations on the grounds of Polish copyright law the argument appears to miss the point. Although it may be agreed that the original does not exist if we consider the original to be a single physical object which fulfils two conditions: it was created by the author himself and guides the viewer’s mind to perception of the work in the most perfect manner [2], we cannot agree with the statement that the work does not exist.  It is inadmissible and groundless to identify works of visual art with physical objects on which they were established. A work, being an emanation of creative activity having individual character, or an „intentional object, a set of factors and places not fully defined”, must be distinguished from individual specific realizations of the work.[3] As such in the present case the work exists but it is established in an imperfect form, a sketch.

On the other hand, it is to be remembered that copyright protects the mode of expression of a work and not its concept. In other words, the idea itself, which may be brought down to the head of a wolf expressed by geometric shapes, is not protected by copyright. However, in some cases, especially in relations between entrepreneurs, appropriation of a concept not protected by copyright may be considered an act of unfair competition if it is contrary to good mores.

The distinction between an unprotected idea and a mode of expression of a work of visual art or photography which is protected by copyright is a highly complex matter. As an example, we may refer to recent judgment of a British court in relation to the well-known photo of a red English bus on Westminster bridge with the Parliament buildings and Big Ben in the background. The court delivered a controversial judgment and awarded protection to the author of the initial photo.[4]

 The respondent’s photo. Photo New English Teas

The claimant’s photo. Photo by Justin Fielder / Temple Island Collection Ltd

 Whether or not Peter Davis is actually the author of the Mystery Wolf and whether his copyright has been breached is a separate issue to be determined by the London court. An interesting aspect is that apparently one of the members of the jury of the art competition gave Davies’ work to a close friend, the Wolves’ President at the time; incidentally, after more than a decade, the drawing was used to create the club’s logo.

After the recent hearing of the parties the court will decide about further course of the proceedings. A very interesting trial is at hand.


[1] During the years 1993-1996 the club returned to its pre-World War II logo.

[2] A. Kopff, Dzieło sztuk plastycznych i jego twórca w świetle przepisów prawa autorskiego [A work of visual arts and its author in the light of copyright law], Kraków 1961, pg. 28.

[3] Ibidem, pg. 41-47.

[4] zob. http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWPCC/2012/1.html

#kluby piłkarskie #piłka nożna #prawa aurorskie #proces #Wolverhampthon Wanderers


#football clubs

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