That may be the best explanation of the sweet-tasting brouhaha that took place last week between the University of Alabama and a bakery in Northport, the Tuscaloosa County town just across the Black Warrior River and not far from the UA campus.
The bakery, Mary’s Cakes & Pastries, makes pies, cakes and the like. During football season, it’s not unusual for customers to ask owner Mary Cesar if she can use crimson-colored icing, or put a script “A” or an elephant on the delights, or even mimic the look of Bear Bryant’s houndstooth hat.
Turns out, that’s not allowed.
Cesar received a cease-and-desist letter from Collegiate Licensing Co., the Atlanta firm that handles, among other things, the protection of Alabama’s trademarked images. Among those are things like a script “A” and a crimson elephant, though that’s hardly all of them.
The predictable result happened. The Tuscaloosa News wrote a story about it, and the court of public opinion — often quick and volatile — raced to Cesar’s defense. This isn’t the case of someone selling thousands of dollars of unlicensed products in the parking lot of Bryant-Denny Stadium, they said, or of artist Daniel Moore selling pricey paintings about Crimson Tide football. It’s a small-town, local businesswoman catering to the requests of a few customers.
So last Thursday, the university called Cesar and apologized. It promised to work something out. A university release said the way the bakery’s case was handled by the Atlanta firm was “not consistent with the protocol we normally follow for local vendors on trademark issues.”
In other words, the university messed up. It kicked the little guy. There’s no value in going after a small-town bakery that makes crimson-colored cupcakes adorned with elephants.
That said, the university does have much at stake — as does any organization whose trademarked images are highly sought. Alabama should — and must — go after those who try to skirt licensing regulations and make their fortune off the university’s popularity.
In that legal sense, the university did owe Mary Cesar a phone call so something could be worked out that was fair to both sides. But sending a cease-and-desist letter? That just smacked of bad form. The university’s apology was well needed.