NYC's Metropolitian Transporation Authority Threatens Man Marketing S.F. Muni T-Shirts

Joseph Moore.jpg
Joseph Moore is K-onfused
A few weeks back, San Francisco resident Joseph Moore got so fed up with Muni that he decided to express his disdain via custom-made clothing. The resultant T-shirts utilize various San Francisco Metropolitian Transportation Agency line names, which appear in black block letters surrounded by a circle of color, and then use that lettering to make a sarcastic critique -- for example, the "N" symbol becomes "N-one"; the "L" becomes "L-ate," the "J," "J-acked," the "T," "T-ardy." Like so many things, it's all fun and games, until you get sued.


Moore hasn't been sued yet, but he says he received a letter from Cafe Press, the Web site where he was originally selling the shirts, informing him that they would no longer hawk his wares because the logos infringed upon rights of a mysterious third party. When Moore wrote back  to inquire exactly why his shirts were pulled, Cafe Press sent him word on behalf of a lawyer for the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority stating: "Your use of the subway route symbols and/or other subway imagery infringes upon [MTA's] intellectual property rights (trademark)."

In short, the New York City subway system has -- successfully -- made the claim that no one is entitled to make money off of logos featuring letters within colored circles but them. But in a recent phone interview, a spokesman for the agency, Aaron Donovan, seemed to backtrack: "We have no claim on Muni's icons, we would need to look into the specifics of this case in greater detail to determine why the letter may have been sent," he said. "The images on Mr. Moore's blog did not appear to show anything that would represent a trademark violation against the New York MTA." 

A confused Moore proceeded to hawk his wares via a different online store and said in a recent e-mail that he hasn't received any complaints from NYC's MTA about that one yet. He also said that he hasn't heard a peep from San Francisco's MTA.  

That's probably because, whereas NYC's MTA has an extensive Transit Museum Store that sells everything from subway map boxer shorts to subway logo knit hats, SFMTA has, well, fast passes (for now). SFMTA spokesman Judson True says he's certainly noticed the explosion of MTA-themed garb hitting the streets and boutiques and the last year or so. "We're broadly interested in merchandising as well," he said, adding that MTA has a couple of copyrighted logos, including the Muni worm.

Moore isn't the only one dealing with legal threats from NYC's MTA -- Connecticut-based blogger and iPhone application developer Chris Schoenfeld says Apple pulled his StationStops app -- which brings the metro schedule out of Grand Central to an iPhone near you -- when NYC's MTA threatened him with a copyright infringement lawsuit. StationStops is now arguing the claim.

Walter Koning also sells Muni T-shirts online, including Cafe Press, and said in an e-mail that he's never had issues with San Francisco or New York City MTA . He added that he created his designs completely from scratch, and doesn't understand why Muni would ever want him to stop promoting its service.

H/T   |   Muni Diaries

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Logo, MUNI, NYC
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