Hornet logo

Edina Community Center walls are decorated with Hornet logos, as seen during an Edina High School basketball game against Jefferson High School Jan. 8. (Sun photo by John Sherman)

The menacing Hornet logo that has symbolized Edina Schools since the image was first designed in 1981 is now being grounded.

The move comes after the copyright owner of the iconic Edina Hornets logo, Michael Otto, filed a lawsuit in federal court against the district for its use of the image last week, according to an email sent to families by Superintendent Stacie Stanley Jan. 6. In response, the district will begin planning for the development of a new Hornet image.

“We are sorry that the Hornet logo as we know it, a symbol of our Edina school community, may change,” Stanley said in the email.

The lawsuit filing comes after a back-and-forth between Otto and the district over the use of the logo, effectively coming into the public eye in mid-2021 when Otto sent a cease-and-desist letter to the district. The letter demanded that the district stop all use of the logo.

The reason, Otto said in the statement earlier this summer, is that the district began using his logo with an apparel and merchandise company that he had not authorized.

Otto told the Sun Current he could not comment at this time due to the lawsuit.

Otto, who graduated from Edina-East High in 1974, created the logo as part of a district contest in 1981 to create an image for the unification of the two Edina high schools. Otto’s sketch won.

He soon copyrighted the image, which was his avenue for “protecting the logo from misuse by anyone, including those working in the district then and in the future,” Otto said in a statement on his Facebook account in June. Under the copyright agreement between Otto and the district, the former student had the rights to choose how the logo is used and which vendors the district can contract with for apparel that includes the logo, the district said in a June statement.

In 2018, the district entered into an agreement with BSN Sports to create an official online store for Edina High School, which was “no different” than its other spirit wear apparel agreements, the district said. The district noted that when the copyright agreement between Otto and the district was signed, “the ability to make EHS spirit wear available via online purchase did not exist.”

Otto said on Facebook that he would not have authorized the vendor, but did not name it publicly.

In response to Otto’s cease-and-desist, the district attempted to negotiate for a less restrictive agreement or to secure full rights to the logo copyright.

When Otto told the district to stop using the logo, the district removed the Hornet image from its websites and stopped new uses of the logo, including on its athletic uniforms and spirit wear, Stanley said in the recent email to families. A block-style “E” has been used in the interim, she noted.

The district has also already cataloged where the image appears in district buildings to assess what will be needed to remove the logo.

Throughout the fall, the district had continued negotiations over the logo to no avail, Stanley said in the email.

Stanley and John Toop, the district’s director of business services, said in Sept. 13 Edina School Board documents that the district disagreed with Otto’s position that he could dictate how the image is used and with what vendors, “based on the previous conduct of the parties and permissions that were granted over the past 40 years.”

In those documents, they said Otto turned down an offer from the district to buy the logo. The district then offered a contract and payment to be able to continue to use the logo, which was also declined, Stanley said.

According to the district, Otto then told the district that it could stop using the logo altogether or pay him $500,000 – a payment to which Stanley and Toop said in board documents “would negatively impact Edina Public Schools financial status and its efforts to successfully implement components of its strategic plan including the Early Childhood - 12th grade comprehensive literacy plans.”

“We believe we’ve made good faith offers, and have not been able to reach an agreement,” Stanley’s recent email to families said.

In June, Otto stated he had 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 the June statement. “My efforts to protect the logo have been at my own time and expense, my way of contributing.”

At the time, he said he hoped to find common ground with the district in a win-win situation.

Removal of the image in district buildings will continue, but the cost of that and the replacement of the iconography could be “substantial,” Stanley’s email said.

“Needless to say, after 40 years of having permission to use the Hornet, it is everywhere – on clocks, walls, gym floors and terrazzo, and of course the Kuhlman Stadium field,” she said.

The process to redesign the Hornet logo has not yet been determined, said the district’s spokesperson, Mary Woitte.

– Follow Caitlin Anderson on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent

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