DENVER — A group of students is suing Denver Public Schools over the trademark of the "Know Justice, Know Peace" podcast.
The podcast was started by a group of students from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Early College two years ago in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the nationwide social justice protests that followed.
The students told Denver7 at the time they wanted to use the podcast as a platform to bring a youth perspective to the conversation around race in the country.
Since then, the podcast has grown substantially. The students have earned national recognition and even won awards for their work.
“It just kept building on and I feel like it really shaped who we are today,” student Dahni Austin said.
The last episode of the podcast was recorded in March and because of scheduling problems, the students were not able to record any others toward the end of the school year.
However, when they wanted to start recording episodes once again this school year, the students say they received a cease and desist letter from the district and all the social media passwords for the podcast were changed.
“It was a legal document that was addressed to our former principal. But saying that she has to cease and desist the use of the 'Know Justice, Know Peace,' that was definitely shocking," Jenelle Nangah said. "And then continuing to see like the measures that they were willing to go to, to suppress our voices.”
The students are now working with lawyer Jeffrey Kass and have filed a lawsuit to try to block the district from taking ownership of the podcast and its name.
“The Denver Public School System has chosen not to support their students,” said Kass, a Denver-based partner with Lewis Brisbois Bisbaarg & Smith LLP. “We should be standing in awe of these teenagers, rather than then suppressing them.”
During a press conference Wednesday, Kass told reporters that the first person to use a phrase or name in connection with a particular area has ownership of it, whether they trademark it officially or not. So, he sees the students as the rightful owners of the branding for the podcast.
The students did use district equipment to record the podcast and did so on district property. However, Kass said this case could set a precedent for school districts for other student creations moving forward like artwork or even music.
“Imagine if Denver Public School system started saying that they own all this art. Imagine a musician who records something in the Denver Public School systems on a song that they wrote. But he used microphones from the public school system,” he said.
Austin said the district’s move was hurtful and told Denver7 it felt like DPS was trying to snatch away all their hard work.
Kaliah Yizar, meanwhile, said students shouldn’t have to fight as hard as they are for their content.
“It's just so ironic that as a district, you claim to care about student diversity, you declare to care about racial diversity... and then you turn around and try to silence us,” Yizar said.
In a statement, DPS said it was disappointing that they were unable to come to a mutually agreeable resolution with the students and that it remains open to further discussions.
The statement went on to read: “Denver Public Schools (DPS) looks forward to the legal process and clearing up any misinformation that is in the complaint. Serving more than 90,000 students, DPS must maintain the integrity of our educational programs and intellectual property. It is unfortunate that Mr. Kass has misrepresented the facts and law in an attempt to push the narrative that DPS did anything other than assert its rights through the legal process.”
It's not entirely clear as to why the district trademarked the name.