From Coffee To Clothes, Using Cleveland’s Guardians After MLB Name Change

Guardians of Traffic in Cleveland, Ohio
The Guardians of Traffic can been found in brand logos and photography among other uses. [Allison Seib / Shutterstock.com]

Cleveland’s Guardians of Traffic are prolific in local marketing and art. There’s even a roller derby team named after the historic pylons on the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, also called the Hope Memorial Bridge. Starting next season, Cleveland’s baseball team will carry the name, too.

What does that mean for local artists and businesses using the iconic imagery in their work?

Guardians pillow

This pillow is among other Guardians of Traffic merchandise photographer Christina Sadowski sells online. [Christina Sadowski]

Case Western Reserve University Law Professor Aaron Perzanowski said the issue reminds him of a case the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame brought against a photographer who took photos of the exterior of its building and sold them on posters in the 1990s.  

“The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame argued, ‘Well, wait, that's our trademark. You don't get to sell our image on your poster,'” Perzanowski said. “The court eventually rejected that argument and said, ‘Look, you can't stop people from photographing your buildings.' And I think the same sort of approach would apply, you know, when you're talking about the bridge… maybe even more strongly as a kind of piece of public infrastructure rather than a private building.”

With images of the guardians already on everything from posters to clothing to cold brew coffee bottles, Perzanowski says it also wouldn’t be a good public image for the baseball team to try to limit the creative use of the guardians.

Cold Brew Coffee Bottle in front of Cleveland sign

Guardian Cold Brew Coffee is brewed and bottled in Ohio City, according to its website. [Guardian Cold Brew Coffee]

“As fraught as this rebranding already is, having the team's lawyers going around telling local, small businesses to change their t-shirt designs and stop selling their artwork is a bad look,” he said.

A local roller derby team also already bears the Cleveland Guardians name and uses the icon in its logo. The roller derby team declined to comment on the name change and whether or not it has been in contact with the baseball team.

“It would surprise me if this was news to the baseball team,” Perzanowski said, noting it is standard for a business to do a trademark search for other uses.

“For better or worse, I think this is a scenario where the big, well-funded organization is probably going to get their way. It might cost them a little bit and maybe it already has,” he said.

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