Black students sue Denver Public Schools in “Know Justice, Know Peace” trademark fight

A group of Black students who created the “Know Justice, Know Peace” racial justice podcast at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Early College sued Denver Public Schools in federal court Monday, alleging the district is trying to trademark and “steal” the students’ brand name.

Alana Mitchell, Jenelle Nangah and two minors not named in the lawsuit — all current or former students at MLK Early College — sued DPS in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, alleging the district is infringing on their trademark of the name “Know Justice, Know Peace.”

Denver Public Schools did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But in a letter provided to The Denver Post by an attorney representing the students, a lawyer for Denver Public Schools argues the podcast was made with the help of MLK Early College’s then-principal with the use of school equipment. Because of this, the district said it owns all rights to the podcast series.

“Notably, it is your clients who are liable for trademark infringement,” attorney Tiffany D.W. Shimada wrote to the students’ lawyer in a letter dated Monday.

Jeffrey Kass, the attorney representing the students, said the school district threatened him with “sanctions for filing a frivolous lawsuit.”

“We sent a letter to the district before filing this lawsuit saying, ‘Let’s make this easy. Just return the trademark to the girls and this will all be over.’ Their response was to say that this belongs to the district and if you sue us, we’re going to seek legal fees from the students,” Kass said. “They, apparently, would like to fight.”

In the wake of the George Floyd murder in Minneapolis, a group of Black students at MLK Early College created and funded the podcast “Know Justice, Know Peace” to discuss “the seemingly never-ending racial problems facing America,” the lawsuit says.

The Black Student Alliance at the school announced the podcast on Juneteenth in 2020, and it premiered on July 4, 2020. “The podcast was an instant hit and got the attention of the national news, including ‘The Today Show’,” the lawsuit says.

The students raised $14,000 through the podcast to purchase Black history books “after DPS refused to provide funds for the books,” the lawsuit alleges.

According to the lawsuit, DPS filed two federal trademark applications and one Colorado trademark application for “Know Justice, Know Peace” in August. The school also allegedly changed the passwords and took over all related social media accounts.

In late August, Deputy Superintendent of Denver Public Schools Anthony Smith held a last-minute meeting with the students and their parents to “coerce and bully” the students into admitting DPS owns the trademark, the lawsuit alleges.

Kass said DPS told his clients that the district did not have finalized plans for use of the trademark.

“The irony of DPS’s attempts to steal and then use the “Know Justice, Know Peace” trademark to run a racial justice podcast is that DPS has for years fallen way short on Black history, racial justice and education around these important issues,” the lawsuit says. “That their newly found and significantly tardy desire to address racial issues had to come in this form is a sad commentary on the state of DPS.”

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