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Adam Jones and Missy in poster/billboard for 'Show Your Soft Side,' an anti animal-abuse campaign in Baltimore designed by Sande Riesett of Outlaw Advertising. (Photo by L.H. Lubow, Lubow Photography)

City settles lawsuit with ‘Show Your Soft Side’ ad creator

The Baltimore advertising executive who created the “Show Your Soft Side” billboards to help stop animal abuse has settled her federal lawsuit against the city over ownership of the campaign.

The billboard campaign, launched three years ago in Baltimore, features photos professional athletes, celebrities and local people with their pets along with the tag line, “Only a punk would hurt a cat or dog.”

Sande Riesett, the owner and president of Outlaw Advertising LLC, said she gave the city a free, non-exclusive license to use the materials. She filed suit last June in U.S. District Court in Baltimore after the city asserted it owned the campaign. The city threatened to oppose her plans to trademark the slogans so she could license the campaign for use in other cities, she alleged.

Under terms of the settlement, the city has agreed to drop its opposition to the “Show Your Soft Side” trademark registration, according James B. Astrachan, Riesett’s lawyer. “Only a punk would hurt a cat or dog” has already been registered, according to Astrachan.

In return, the city will be able to maintain all existing billboards for the campaign, said Astrachan, of Astrachan Gunst Thomas P.C. in Baltimore.

“We’re happy it’s resolved,” he said. “It’s about the animals, not the people.”

Judge George L. Russell III entered a settlement order Tuesday, according to court records. The case can be reopened by either party if the settlement is not formalized within 30 days, according to the order.

Patrick Sheridan, an assistant city solicitor, declined to comment on the settlement because is not yet official.

The idea for “Show Your Soft Side” came to Riesett in early 2011 after attending a meeting of what is now the Mayor’s Anti-Animal Abuse Advisory Commission, according to her lawsuit.

A friend of Riesett’s who knew local athletes and celebrities enlisted their participation in their campaign, and Riesett arranged for the photo shoots and created all of the advertising materials, according to her complaint, filed last June.

Riesett showed her advertising materials to members of the commission in August 2011, prior to the campaign’s launch, and city officials asked for the city logo to be included on the posters, according to her lawsuit. She granted the city a “non-exclusive license to the use of the campaign,” according to the lawsuit.

Riesett did not charge the city for the license, and even helped defray some of the costs of producing and displaying the billboards on non-donated space, although the city and the commission were responsible for those costs, she alleged.

“At no time did Riesett convey … any rights of ownership in the campaign and its associated advertising materials and intellectual property rights, and despite repeated requests that the City of Baltimore produce any evidence of transfer, it has failed to do so,” the complaint said.

Riesett stopped using the city’s logo just before she filed her lawsuit, according to the complaint.

“Show Your Soft Side” now appears in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., with Boston to come, Astrachan said. The campaign has also picked up a national sponsor in Pet Valu, a Canadian retailer with approximately two dozen stores in Maryland.

The case is Riesett v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, 1:13-cv-01860-GLR, U.S. District Court (Baltimore).

RIESETT V. MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL OF BALTIMORE 1:13-CV-01860-GLR

Court:

U.S. District Court, Baltimore

Case No.:

1:13-cv-01860-GLR

Judge:

George L. Russell III

Outcome:

Settlement; city agrees to drop opposition to registering of trademark, can maintain existing billboards in city

Dates:

Event: August 2011

Suit filed: June 25, 2013

Settlement order: June 18, 2013

Plaintiff’s Attorneys:

James B. Astrachan, Donna M.D. Thomas and Christopher J. Lyon of Astrachan Gunst Thomas P.C. in Baltimore

Defendants’ Attorneys:

Patrick Sheridan, assistant city solicitor

Counts:

Declarative relief