The CIAA has filed suit in federal court against several advertisers, party promoters, concert promoters and merchandisers, claiming they are using the conference’s name without permission.
The suit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Charlotte, demands that promoters stop using the conference’s trademark name. In addition, the conference is demanding rights to several websites, along with triple the value of profits derived from unauthorized use of the CIAA name.
The conference, whose members include Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte and a number of other Carolinas schools, takes the action less than two weeks before its annual men’s and women’s basketball tournaments begin at Time Warner Cable Arena.
The CIAA Tournament is among Charlotte’s biggest events, drawing tens of thousands of people to the city for a week of basketball, parties, concerts and other events. This year’s tournament is scheduled for Feb. 26 through March 2, although events connected to the tournament begin Feb. 25 and end March 3.
The suit comes after many concert and party promoters already have printed brochures and set up websites, advertising their events in the Charlotte area during the tournament.
The CIAA (Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association) action is similar to that taken in recent years by the NFL with the Super Bowl, and the NCAA with the annual men’s college basketball tournament. Advertisers cannot make specific reference to the Super Bowl unless they have permission from the NFL, and many companies use “big game” as a replacement reference.
And in October 2010, the NCAA reportedly spent several million dollars to copyright the term “March Madness” for its men’s basketball tournament.
The Computer and Communications Industry Association filed a complaint in 2007 with the Federal Trade Commission, saying trademark laws were being enforced too strictly, but the FCC declined to rule on the case.
The CIAA, represented by attorney Carlos Watson of Charlotte, says in its suit that with increased popularity of the CIAA Tournament, “individuals, groups and corporations have begun hosting parties, marketing events, and counterfeiting in and around the Charlotte area during the tournament week.
“Also with increased fan participation, certain individuals, groups and corporations have begun selling merchandise related to the conference tournament.”
The suit alleges that defendants have made unauthorized use of the CIAA’s name.
The CIAA, founded in 1912 and originally known as the Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Association, is the oldest athletic conference in the nation for historically black colleges and universities.
The CIAA annually sponsors several non-basketball events during tournament week, and the lawsuit mentions those. They include special programs for middle school and high school students on Feb. 27; a bowling party, also Feb. 27; a career expo and a skating party, each on Feb. 28; and CIAA Toyota Fan Experience on Feb. 28 and March 1; and a post-tournament party March 2 featuring singer Chaka Khan.
Only those events, the conference says, should be using the CIAA name.
Defendants listed in the suit are:
-- Allure Life Entertainment of Charlotte, which CIAA says handles online advertising for events.
-- Michael Walker, a Virginia man who the conference says operated an entertainment and promotion company based in Virginia.
-- Southern Dynasty Entertainment, based in Charlotte
-- Torri Entertainment, also based in Charlotte
-- 5th Element, a night club at West 5th and Graham streets
-- Maz Entertainment, based in Charlotte
-- Dream NC, which operates a night club in Matthews
-- Neighborhood Theatre, BrightWork Entertainment, Paradice Entertainment and Lion Tribe Entertainment, which the CIAA says is promoting concerts including an event at the Neighborhood Theatre titled “CIAA Island Style 2.”
-- A number of “John Doe” defendants accused of selling apparel and merchandise with the CIAA’s name. The suit says the CIAA “believes that the significant number of defendants reside in and around the Western District of North Carolina.”
As of Friday afternoon, Neighborhood Theatre Manager Zac McNabb said he didn’t know the venue in Charlotte’s North Davidson Arts District had been named in the lawsuit.
“We have just been made aware of the allegations and we have referred the matter to our attorneys,” he said.
Elvado Laing from Paradice Entertainment said he didn’t know his company had been named in the suit, either. “I had no idea of the lawsuit till someone sent me something through Facebook,” he said.
Laing said in previous years, Paradice has advertised two other events using the conference’s name without incident.
“This is the third year. I had no idea it was an issue, a problem or against the law.” Laing said he’d heard a rumor about a month ago that the CIAA would be “cracking down” and threw away 5,000 fliers that billed the March 2 “Island Style 3” event as being affiliated with the conference. “I’ve never heard from CIAA, ever.”
He said that loss, having the fliers redesigned and reprinted with “CI” cost about $400. Laing said he got his degree in business administration from St. Augustine’s in Raleigh, a CIAA school.
In addition to Johnson C. Smith, other Carolinas members are Livingstone College in Salisbury; Chowan University in Murfreesboro; Fayetteville State University; Elizabeth City State University; Shaw University in Raleigh; and Winston-Salem State University.
-The Observer’s Maria David contributed.