Coun­ter­suit filed in Light City case

Cou­ple who came up with idea say city is un­fairly try­ing to cut them out

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE - By Natalie Sher­man nsh­er­man@balt­sun.com

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.

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