Edina Hornet logo

The Edina Hornets logo was copyrighted by its creator, Michael Otto, in 1981. (Photo courtesy Michael Otto)

Hang on to your Hornets gear. The hats, sweatshirts and jerseys bearing the angry insect could soon be scarce.

Michael Otto graduated from Edina-East High in 1974, back when the city had two high schools. Seven years later, during a contest to create a logo as part of the unification of the two schools, Otto’s sketch of a ferocious Edina Hornet won.

He soon copyrighted the emblem, which was his way of “protecting the logo from misuse by anyone, including those working in the district then and in the future,” states a recent post on Otto’s Facebook account. He leveraged that copyright when he sent Edina Public Schools a cease-and-desist letter in March, compelling the district to stop using the logo. The district announced the development late last month.

Under Otto and the district’s copyright agreement, which was signed in 1981, Otto has the rights to choose how the logo is used and which vendors the district can contract with for apparel that features the logo, according to a statement by the district.

This arrangement was working for many years, Otto said. But then, the district began using his logo with an apparel and merchandise company he had not authorized, he explained. Otto declined to publicly name the company in question.

When the copyright agreement with Otto and the district was signed, “the ability to make EHS spirit wear available via online purchase did not exist,” according to a spokesperson for the district. With online shopping becoming commonplace, the district said it entered into an agreement with BSN Sports in 2018 to create an official online store for the high school. This agreement is “no different” than agreements with vendors for spirit wear sold in the school store and provides the best cost for families, the spokesperson also said in an email to the Sun Current. BSN could not be reached for comment.

Otto said he would not have authorized the vendor. In response to the letter, the district said in its statement that it has tried to negotiate with Otto on a less restrictive agreement or to secure full rights to the logo copyright. In the June 23 statement, the district said these attempts had so far failed.

A newly designed Hornet image is one option, the district said. The district is already working with a graphic design firm to create a new Hornet image. If a new design is necessary, the district will invite the Edina community to help select one, the statement said.

“This is obviously not our first choice of direction, as we value our logo and the emotional ties to it. However, our community routinely asks for more access to the Edina Hornet image and we want to be able to use the logo freely within our district and provide access to those in the community that identify as proud Edina Hornets,” Troy Stein, Edina High School’s athletic director, said in the statement.

He added, “The district has not been able to accommodate many requests for use of the Hornet image due to the trademark’s restrictive terms.”

Edina High School’s online store removed all clothing items with the Edina Hornet logo when Otto objected to the use of the image, the district said. It did not indicate when this was done. Otto said he had repeatedly made the request.

Otto told the Sun Current that he would be disappointed if the Edina Hornet logo was replaced. Instead of pursuing a lawsuit, Otto said his only course of action was to issue a cease-and-desist in order to get the district to stop using the logo without his authorization because he doesn’t want to take money from the district.

He added that he has never received money from the district for use of the logo.

“Forty years ago, I asked myself, did I want to get rich off the logo or make the logo my legacy? I chose (legacy.) It has guided my decisions over the years,” Otto said in his statement. “My efforts to protect the logo have been at my own time and expense, my way of contributing.”

Otto told the Sun Current he still vividly remembers attending an Edina sporting with his family when he was young, where his father was shouting “‘H-O-R-N-E-T-S’ ... with all the gusto you can imagine.” Otto continued, “Well, how much more do you think he did when he was wearing a logo that his son made?”

While creating the logo, Otto, now a chaplain, said he felt inspired as if it was “a gift from God.”

And now, after seeing his logo appear in a multitude of state tournaments and on television, Otto said he can tell how much pride kids feel while wearing the logo “like the USA on Olympic jerseys.”

Otto said he hopes to find common ground with the district for a win-win situation for both parties.

The district is continuing to look for a plan to be able to use the existing Hornet logo. But until then, the Edina block-style E will be used in its place on new apparel and uniforms, the district’s statement said.

For any updates on this story, go to current.mnsun.com.

– Follow Caitlin Anderson on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent

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