Countersuit filed in Light City case
Couple who came up with idea say city is unfairly trying to cut them out
The couple that came up with the idea for the Light City festival has asked a federal judge to bar the city from using trademarks associated with the event.
Brooke and Justin Allen, in a countersuit in response to a lawsuit filed by the city last month, say the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts — a nonprofit that stages events for the city — misrepresented plans for its relationship with the Allens to defraud them and gain control over Light City.
The Light City festival drew thousands to the Inner Harbor and other neighborhoods in the spring for light installations, music and panel discussions. A second year of activities is in the works.
The Allens, who came up with the idea based on similar events in other places, say they agreed to work with the promotions office, known as the BOPA, with the understanding that they would continue to own and operate the ticketed conference portion of the event. They hoped to build a business around the conference and export it to other cities.
But the BOPA backed away from that position in January and moved in May to cut the Allens out of the organization for next year’s festival, including the conference, the Allens say in the lawsuit filed Friday in federal court. They are seeking an unspecified amount of money in damages.
In an open letter published in conjunction with the filing, the Allens said their countersuit is about “more than an annual festival or the name of an event.”
“This is about standing up to those in power who think they can take whatever they want from whoever they want without consequence,” they wrote. “By not honoring their word, attempting to take what’s not theirs, and then suing us in an unnecessarily public way, BOPA is in direct opposition to the spirit of Light City. With this lawsuit, BOPA has diminished the potential of Light City and the goodwill associated with it.”
The city, in a suit filed Oct 19, asked that a judge grant the BOPA and its Baltimore Festival of the Arts subsidiary sole control over the Light City trademarks.
The city said the nonprofits’ control of all aspects of the festival was made clear in initial discussions, and in contracts with the Allens.
As nonprofits working on behalf of the city, a lawyer for the BOPA wrote in the lawsuit, the BOPA and the Festival of the Arts could not be tied to a for-profit enterprise.
Ownership of the trademarks is important to the long-term success of the festival, said William Alden McDaniel Jr., the attorney representing the BOPA.
McDaniel said the organization had hoped to reach an agreement with the Allens without a lawsuit, but the couple was seeking $2.6 million to settle claims and walk away.
“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,” McDaniel wrote in an email. “Where every dollar counts, there is no way a nonprofit like BOPA can agree to such outrageous terms. So, unhappily, it is necessary to put this case before a judge as soon as possible so BOPA can remain focused on making 2017’s festival a resounding success.”
Tracey Baskerville, a spokeswoman for the BOPA, said the organization is continuing to focus on the 2017 festival. She did not respond directly to questions about how the lawsuit might affect next year’s event.
Registration for Labs@LightCity, the new name for the conference associated with the festival, opened Friday.