Light City Creators File Countersuit Against BOPA

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Courtesy What Works Studio
Courtesy What Works Studio

The battle between the creators of Light City and the city over the vibrant event’s intellectual property rights has taken a new turn. Brooke Hall Allen and Justin Allen on Friday responded to the city’s lawsuit that was filed last month with a countersuit accusing the city of fraud, trademark infringement and civil conspiracy, among other claims.

In a letter shared with Fishbowl last night and published online today, the Allens write that their filing is “an effort to stand up for our rights and to challenge the outdated systems that are stifling innovation and holding our city back.” They also thanked the public for their support following the news that they were being taken to court.

Last month, the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts (BOPA) sued the Allens over ownership rights, saying the couple falsely claimed they owned the trademarks and design elements to the event and failed to book speakers for the Light City U innovation conference. BOPA’s filing called for compensation from the Allens and asked a judge to decide who legally owns the rights to Light City.

However, three weeks later, the Allens have written that “BOPA is attempting to take what’s not theirs,” and has asked that judge to keep BOPA from using the Light City trademarks amid ongoing litigation.

They say their original deal with the city permitted BOPA to organize the light installations and music while they would handle the innovation conference. They added that they did not initially approach the office for help “because it is our opinion that BOPA has not yet produced a world-class event.” However, the parties ended up partnering up to save money on the whole operation, they wrote.

According to their filing, the Allens conceptualized Light City Baltimore five years before it happened and named the event in August 2013. They got their inspiration from festivals in Sydney, Australia, Berlin and Kobe, Japan, and consulted with Sydney’s light festival organizer in the planning stages. They also obtained private funding, met with investors well before linking up with BOPA and held a reception for sponsors before linking up with BOPA, they claim.

Beyond noting the work they put in before BOPA got involved, the Allens say that after they reached a deal to work together, the city did a poor job of assembling the light attractions . They say the office didn’t work with the Australian consultant they hired, failed to hire a qualified creative director and made “a number of costly mistakes that could have been avoided.”

Among those, they allege, were spending more money than was raised, paying for installations that fell into the harbor and hiring a vendor to install lights along the waterfront that had little effect. “BOPA repeatedly hindered the conference planning which made for an unnecessarily difficult process and resulted in lost revenue for the festival,” they write.

An assistant for William McDaniel, an attorney representing BOPA in the case, sent out a statement on behalf of the city nonprofit in response to the Allens’ counterclaims. “Ownership of the marks is paramount to the long-term success of any festival.  It is a national best business practice,” the statement said. “And it has become very clear that the primary motive of Mrs. Hall and Mr. Allen is not the long-term success of the event, but money, and a lot of it.”

The statement goes on to say that that the Allens were allegedly seeking up to $2.6 in a settlement before BOPA took them to court. “Light City is not the City of Baltimore – it is a grassroots, nonprofit festival that is trying to get off the ground, and it’s terrible that two people would attempt to hold a nonprofit financially hostage like this,” the statement continues.

An attorney representing the Allens wrote in a statement on Wednesday that the notion that they are motivated solely by money “is offensive and patently untrue.”

“Once the Allens made a request for compensation, Mr. McDaniel’s clients took three weeks to respond,” wrote attorney Julie Hopkins in an email. “Their counteroffer was not only unreasonable, but they demanded that the Allens respond to that offer within 24 hours.”

According to Hopkins, BOPA filed its lawsuit less than an hour after the 24-hour deadline passed, “which is an indication that they used the three weeks to prepare to bring a significant federal lawsuit against two Baltimore entrepreneurs in an attempt to bully and overwhelm them.”

This legal battle is unfolding after negotiations between both parties during the summer failed. Even with the ongoing dispute, the city is moving forward with the second edition of Light City, scheduled for March 31-April 8, 2017.

According to BOPA’s website, the event is returning “even bigger and bolder” this spring. However, if a judge decides to halt their use of the trademarks, they may have significantly more work on their hands than planned.

This story has been updated with comments from attorneys representing the Allens and BOPA.

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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
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