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Tournament of Roses logo's controversy

Art Center alumnus David Bartholomew says he created the stylized rose while a student in 1977, but he's not the credited designer. His legal appeals have failed.

December 29, 2011|By Mike Boehm, Los Angeles Times

Carney cited Roley versus New World Pictures, a 1994 decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, as the basis for his decision to dismiss Bartholomew's suit for failing to meet the statute of limitations. Ironically, it's the very case in which Ninth Circuit judges clearly set down the "rolling statute of limitations" concept noted by Nimmer: "In a case of continuing copyright infringements, an action may be brought for all acts that [occurred] within the three years preceding the filing of the suit."

Bartholomew filed a second suit in 2008, this time naming the tournament as the lead defendant, and Karasic as well. He tried to find a lawyer who'd take the case on contingency, but he says the ones he talked to steered clear, saying the outcome of his initial suit had created a "res judicata" — legalese for a done deal that can't be undone. Carney dismissed this case as well, citing both statute of limitations and "res judicata." There could be no case, the judge found, because the matter already had been decided in the Art Center case that had begun as a small claim.

This time Bartholomew managed to file his appeal on time. But on Oct. 13, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit upheld Carney, writing that "the district court properly dismissed Bartholomew's action as barred by the doctrine of res judicata." The appellate judges said nothing about the statute-of-limitations issue. They also affirmed Carney's decision to impose monetary sanctions because of Bartholomew's "vexatious" conduct as a litigant, and they rejected Bartholomew's claim that Carney had been biased and should have recused himself.

Bartholomew is convinced he's the victim of a conspiracy to protect the logo, involving Art Center, the Tournament of Roses and Carney. The judge was a star pass receiver for UCLA, and played in the 1983 Rose Bowl game, running back and forth across the new logo on the day of its national television debut.

Lomas, Bartholomew's former roommate and key witness, wonders why he has persisted. "He's just too focused on it. He's a really talented guy, but he seems bitter that his life hasn't turned out the way he thought. For him this is personal, that's real clear. I would have cut my losses a long time ago."

If Bartholomew had gotten his day in court, there would have been at least one obvious gap in his case: He said that Kubly, the Art Center president, had access to his drawings, and that he himself gave drawings to tournament officials. There is no evidence, however, only supposition, behind his contention that someone from Art Center or the tournament must have held onto the 1977 drawings, then fed them to Karasic four years later to copy.

Karasic said she was shocked when Bartholomew called her in 2007, demanding payment. "He said, 'This is my logo, not yours.' It made no sense to me. I still don't understand it. Had he designed something years before that was similar? It was kind of like 'The Twilight Zone.'"

The Times shared an image of Bartholomew's tracing paper drawing with her. "It looks like a tracing of my work," Karasic said. "I can't believe that it was legitimate." She said she doesn't consider Bartholomew dishonest, but believes he truly has convinced himself that her rose was his work.

Karasic said that when Bartholomew named her as a defendant in his second suit in 2008, she was eager to defend her integrity in court. But after spending $25,000, she said, she took her lawyer's advice that getting the suit dismissed on procedural grounds was the way to go — legal fees for a trial might exceed $100,000.

Could this dispute rise from an improbable coincidence? In 1983, a Chicago jury found that the Bee Gees had stolen the melody of "How Deep Is Your Love?," a hit from the 1977 film "Saturday Night Fever," from an Illinois bar musician. But the judge rejected the verdict, ruling there was no evidence that the band had heard the unknown musician's song. Tapes showed the Bee Gees painstakingly crafting a melody of their own that coincidentally matched the plaintiff's.

In the design world, a famous case of duplication concerns the "N" logo the NBC television network rolled out in 1976 — only to learn that an identical one, formed by two trapezoids, already was being used by the Nebraska Educational Television Network.

Because logos need to be simple, coincidental or unconscious duplication is "something we graphic designers tremble about all the time," said Mari Hulick, head of communication design at the Cleveland Institute of Art. But she and Bill Newkirk, a dean and former head of graphic design at Rhode Island School of Design, said coincidental duplication is a very tenuous explanation when the designers worked in the same place and with the same client in mind — as in the dueling rose logo claims.

Bartholomew bitterly sums up his experience: "What happened was a booby trap. It's like somebody broke into my house and stole my property."

Karasic, too, is dissatisfied. "I wanted to defend myself, and tell my story in court. But apparently that's not the way the legal system works, if it's not financially feasible." Told that Bartholomew is chagrined he never got to present his work to a jury, Karasic said, "ironically, I feel the same."

mike.boehm@latimes.com

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