Who does the Liver Bird belong to?

LFC Crest

Should LFC own the rights to our Liver Bird? Yes, say those charged with ruling on logos (the OHIM – Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market, if you please). No, say campaigners against the decision, who believe that the bird belongs to all of us.

In 2008 Liverpool Football Club applied to the intellectual office of trade marks to have the liver bird, alone (not with its LFC shied) trademarked. At that time there was some outcry and the application was withdrawn. Legendary Councillor Flo Clucas commented on this and stated that “it was outrageous this belongs to all the people of Liverpool not company or organization.” Ironically, Flo’s own Council might have something to say about that, as they own the copyright to another version of the bird – the one that they use!

Fact is, that bird’s been chopped up and handed out like a bargain bucket.

In 2010 LFC reapplied through the OHIM and was successful in trade marking the Liver bird for their own range of merchandise – a lucrative trade bringing the club millions each year.

“In the same year I made an application to the OHIM to have that decision revoked on the grounds that this symbol was and should belong to the people of Liverpool,” says objector Alfie Hincks. “and furthermore that the symbol is widely used within Liverpool.”

“The OHIM was served with hundreds of pages of evidence proving that the Liver Bird is used widely, but disappointingly, after two years of deliberation and compiling evidence, the office has come down in favour of LFC.”

In theory, this ruling means that if anyone who has a Liver Bird on their business or organisation could be asked by LFC to remove it, on the grounds of copyright infringement, or of ‘passing off’ (trying to misrepresent your goods or services as being ‘official’ LFC merchandise).

“This ruling means that, in theory, the club could go after the Liverpool Echo,” says Maggie Ranage, former President of the Institute of Trademark Attorneys, “as they don’t own the copyright on their bird.”

“Liverpool applied for, and won, the rights to the likeness of the bird in certain specific categories, which includes printed materials, so the bird on The Echo could constitute a claim of copyright infringement,” she says, adding that, in reality, any such claim wouldn’t get very far, as the Echo has been using the symbol for as long as the club. For future uses, though, any Liverpool company wanting to put a nice logo of a Liver Bird on their gloves, or letterheads, could find themselves with a battle on their hands.

LFC has been granted copyright (in the EU) of the bird on:

Small metal jewellery
Clocks and watches
Printed matter and stationary
Leather and bags
Clothing and footwear
Games and playthings
Financial products and insurance

…and remember, that’s just the bird alone. Not with LFC or any other club logos. So it’s quite a list. But, evidently, if you want to put it on some garden implement, or, curiously, an iPhone case, you’re in the clear.

“If the bird is used innocently by a local company, LFC could legitimately try to take it to court. But they wouldn’t be doing themselves any favours in PR terms,” Ranage says. “And anyone already using the symbol, such as the University or Trinity Mirror, shouldn’t worry too much.”

In practice, SevenStreets feels the move is more to do with protecting the club’s official crest, rather than the bird itself: we really don’t envisage a situation where the club starts running after city businesses with that scrawny cormorant-hybrid on the logo. We spoke to LFC but they declined to comment.

Other clubs, such as Barcelona’s, have crests similar to their official city’s emblem – with no copyright agreement in place. It’ll be interesting to see how this ruling pans out.

Hincks has two months to lodge an appeal, which he says he will be doing.

  • Doc Daneeka

    The problem here is that the club itself is just some tradeable business, its currently owned by an American firm but in the future that could be a Chinese, Russian or UAE based firm. Any of these parent companies may decide to take a much harder line on the use of the Liver Birds particularly as to them the city and the local fans may be viewed as a complete irrelevance in the face of selling merchandise to other markets. In fact its all well and good saying that disputing the use of the birds might cause negative PR but that presumes the club is based in Liverpool and theres no guarantee that that is will always be the case.
    Frankly as far as I can see a modern football club is the absolute worst guardian of a beloved symbol of this city that we could possibly have.

  • Matt

    So where does that leave copyright of the bird internationally?

    There a hundreds of little T-Shirt shops, phones case store etc worldwide… How do they get away with using the Liverbird?

    Can a bloke with a small local company use the liverbird in the States/NZ etc? How far reaching is this law?