Light City creators file countersuit against BOPA

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Peacock by Scofield and Kyle Miller. Photo via lightcity.org.

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 a city lawsuit, 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with Fishbowl last night, the Allens said their filing is “an effort to stand up for our rights and to challenge the outdated systems that are stifling innovation and holding our city back.” The couple thanked the public for their support following the news that the city’s arts council was taking them to court.

Last month, the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts sued the Allens over ownership rights, saying the pair 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 the Light City festival.

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

The Allens say their original deal permitted BOPA to organize the light installations and music while the couple 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, both parties ended up partnering to save money on the whole operation, they said in their filing.

The Allens are arguing they conceptualized Light City Baltimore five years before it happened and named the event in August 2013. They were inspired by festivals in Sydney, Australia, Berlin and Kobe, Japan, and consulted with Sydney’s light festival organizer during the planning stages. They also obtained private funding, met with investors and held a reception for sponsors well before linking up with BOPA, they claim.

Beyond noting the work they put in before the city’s nonprofit arts council got involved, the Allens say that after agreeing to work together, the city didn’t hold up its end of the deal by failing to properly organize the light attractions. They say BOPA 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: 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,” it 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.”

BOPA’s statement also says the Allens were seeking up to $2.6 in a settlement before the arts council 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.”

An attorney representing the Allens said Wednesday that the notion 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,” attorney Julie Hopkins said via 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 [BOPA] 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 failed during the summer. Even with the ongoing dispute, the city is moving forward with the second edition of Light City, scheduled for March 31-April 8, 2017.

BOPA’s website says the event is returning “even bigger and bolder” this spring.

This story has been updated with comment from attorneys representing the Allens and the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts.

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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 Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in CityLab, Slate, Baltimore City Paper, DCist and elsewhere.
Ethan McLeod
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