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Baltimore settles with ex-partners in Light City festival

 Brooke Hall, Founder and CEO, and Justin Allen, Creative Strategist, at What Works Studio, concept designers behind the vision of Light City. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz).

Brooke Hall, Founder and CEO, and Justin Allen, Creative Strategist, at What Works Studio, concept designers behind the vision of Light City. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz).

A lawsuit over ownership of the Light City trademark has settled just weeks after the festival celebrated its second year in Baltimore, according to federal court filings.

Details of the settlement were not available Monday, when U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander issued a settlement order dismissing the case, including all counterclaims.

The city sought a court order blocking What Works Studio LLC and Light City LLC from using the phrase “Light City” in their marketing efforts, arguing common law trademark because the city used the phrase in commerce first.

Owners Justin Allen and Brooke Hall responded with counterclaims for unfair competition, trademark infringement, fraud and civil conspiracy.

A Light City display at the Baltimore Inner Harbor. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

A Light City display at the Baltimore Inner Harbor. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Baltimore said it dropped What Works Studio and the other former partners from the 2016 festival for their alleged failure to book speakers for the festival’s conference portion. The city subsequently assigned those tasks to Baltimore Festival of the Arts Inc. and Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts Inc.

In the lawsuit, the city requested a judgment declaring Baltimore and its entertainment divisions were the exclusive owners of all rights in the Light City marks.

But Allen and Hall alleged they owned the common law trademark and the idea for the festival was conceived as early as 2010 with the name following three years later, according to court filings. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website lists Baltimore Festival of the Arts as the owner of the Light City marks.

After the lawsuit was filed, Allen said the city failed to honor its contract with his company and was “attacking” after not “holding up their end of the deal.” Allen and Hall published an open letter to the city in November claiming the city’s actions were “in direct opposition to the spirit of Light City” and accusing the promotional office and Baltimore Festival of the Arts of being fiscally irresponsible by spending more money than was raised for the festival.

The first large-scale international light festival in the United States, Light City Baltimore attracted more than 400,000 people in 2016 and was estimated to have had an economic impact of nearly $34 million. Despite a $400,000 loss, the city deemed it a success for the “many economic and other benefits” it brought to the city, according to the complaint. Attendance rose in 2017 as the festival was extended by two days.

Attorneys for the city did not respond to a request for comment Monday. Allen, Hall and What Works Studio were represented by attorneys in the Atlanta and Baltimore offices of Womble Calyle Sandridge and Rice LLP. A call to the Baltimore office was not returned.

The case is Mayor and City Council of Baltimore et al. v. What Works Studio LLC et al., No. 1:16-cv-03486-ELH.


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