Congratulations to Stanford University’s Women’s Volleyball Team, winning the NCAA DI National Championship this past weekend in Minneapolis’ Target Center, defeating Nebraska in Set 5:
The competition was incredible, a real seesaw battle, Stanford winning Set 1 (28-26), Nebraska Set 2 (25-22), Stanford Set 3 (25-16), Nebraska Set 4 (25-15), setting up the Set 5 tiebreaker.
Even from our elevated vantage point, it was a challenge to ignore Stanford’s wild band, erratic cheerleaders, and bizarre dancing tree, during the many breaks in the action.
The Stanford Tree, not in the University’s official logo and seal, instead the spastic and gyrating Tree mascot, is simply “a member of the band” — as the University has no “official” mascot.
As the Sets progressed, an interesting pattern emerged, but not related to the random, spontaneous, and irrreverent motions and defiant gestures of the merry band of cheerleaders and Tree mascot. Any choreography appeared impossible to script.
No, the pattern I noticed was that each of the first 4 Sets was won by the team that had its back to the band, in other words, turned 180 degrees away from the Stanford Tree.
In contrast, the losers through Set 4, always faced the Tree, in defeat, coincidence, I think not.
The teams switched sides at the close of each Set. During Set 5, with its back to the Tree, Stanford was up 8-7 at the half, then switched sides again to face the Tree, but somehow was able prevail, in the end, while facing the Tree, winning the 5th and final Set: 15-12.
So, with all this turning away from the Tree mascot, positioning the team to win a National Championship on the one hand, and disavowing the Tree mascot on the other hand, specifically rejecting it as not the University’s mascot, I’m left wondering, who owns it?
In other words, clearly there is intellectual property wrapped up in the Tree mascot costume, I’m seeing both trademark and copyright at work here, but really, who owns it?
Put yet another way, who should Reese’s call for a co-branding opportunity to have the Tree mascot appear on packaging for these little gems, or perhaps, the gems themselves?
Can the University automatically own the intellectual property in an “unofficial” mascot? What are the legal distinctions, if any, between official and unofficial mascots?
For what it’s worth, disavowing the Tree, and its unofficial status, apparently hasn’t prevented the University’s payment of NCAA fines against Stanford when the Tree is especially unruly.
At Stanford, it appears that the student selected by the band to perform as the Tree for the academic year, wears the costume created by his or her predecessor from the previous year.
As to copyright, do you suppose there is a work for hire arrangement in place? So, who would you call to license the IP associated with the Tree? Here is a list of the apparent creators.