Borough resolves copyright dispute, avoids lawsuit


Staff Writer

SPOTSWOOD – Copyright infringement is not typically the subject of lawsuits against municipalities, but the borough almost went to court over its official town seal.

Borough officials said they recently received a letter from an attorney representing Thomas Sullivan, a former resident and public works employee who now lives out of state. Sullivan had been visiting the town when he noticed the seal, or logo, on borough-owned vehicles, an image that he said he designed. His attorney threatened legal action if his client’s concerns were not addressed.

The borough would ultimately settle the matter without having to go to court, but according to council President Curtis Stollen, officials are still confused about the issue.

No one seems to know the details of how the seal was created in the 1970s. The borough, in its quest to get to the bottom of the matter, researched old articles from the Sentinel and found that a former resident and police officer, George Ahrend, had designed the seal as part of a contest.

However, while the carved seal in the borough courtroom is the work of Ahrend, the seal used on borough vehicles and documents is slightly different, lending credence to Sullivan’s claim. Furthermore, Sullivan submitted a drawing and other documents to back his claim.

Stollen said Sullivan’s understanding was that his design would not be used, and he was upset to find out it was. Sullivan recently applied for copyright of the seal.

The borough settled the matter by agreeing to credit both Sullivan and Ahrend on the borough Web site, and no lawsuit was filed, according to Borough Attorney Gary Schwartz. The Web site thanks each “for sharing his artistic talent in contributing to the design of the Borough of Spotswood’s seal.”

Both versions of the seal include a depiction of the dam at DeVoe Lake, the St. Peter’s Episcopal Church steeple and some greenery. But while the version in the courtroom has more traditional hardwood trees in the background, the other version’s vegetation is more like bushes, Stollen said.

“We were in a quandary to know what happened,” he said. “The people we spoke to could not recall anything but Ahrend’s [version].”

“Without a lot of background and proof, it is impossible to determine who did what,” he said. “We were able to settle by acknowledging he did contribute to the design.”

Though the situation did not cost the borough any legal fees, it did involve “quite a lot of paperwork,” Stollen said.