Italian court rules in favor of Big Red in 15 year ongoing lawsuit

Published: Jun. 7, 2018 at 6:44 PM CDT
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An Italian judge ruled in favor of the Western Kentucky University mascot, Big Red, on Wednesday. The judge claimed that Italian TV character, Gabbibo, infringed on the likeness of Big Red.

"It's been an adventure, but that's what makes life interesting," says Big Red's creator, Ralph Carey.

Carey created Big Red when he was a 22-year-old senior at WKU. He was also the one that filed this lawsuit in 2004. The suit asking for $450 million from the Italian entertainment group, Mediaset.

The suit claimed that the idea was stolen from Carey and WKU, but the first decision would result in the judge claiming that the two were similar but not exactly the same.

"There's been a lot of intrigue in this one, in some external influences in this one that changed verdicts and altered results," Carey says.

Those influences, he says, include the former Prime Minister of Italy, who once was the owner of Mediaset and still has part ownership.

13 News spoke with Deborah Wilkins, who is part of WKU's legal team on the case. She also mentioned the impact of Italy's Prime Minister in the suit.

"Mediaset's controlling owner was the Prime Minister of Italy, and then the Court of Appeals in Italy then overturned the judgment we had been able to achieve," says Deborah Wilkins, General Counsel at Western Kentucky University.

WKU's team also discovered a quote from Gibibbo's creator, Antonio Ricci, in a 1991 interview with a magazine called Novella 2000. The incriminating quote from Ricci reads: “There was this puppet called Big Red who was the mascot of an American basketball team. The team is Western Kentucky University. It plays in minor tournaments, but the puppet is cute. Big Red became Gabibbo.

"The creator has stated in writing that he copied from Big Red," says Wilkins,"He saw Big Red at a basketball game, so he went back to Italy and created Gabbibo based on Big Red,"

Carey and WKU's legal team refiled the lawsuit, and yesterday, nearly 11 years later, a new judge ruling in favor of the Spirit of WKU, saying it doesn't matter if they're not exactly alike.

So here we are ready for the next round of this classic battle of mysterious red blobs, this round of the battle may be more commonly referred to as "Dear Old Western's Day"

"If you were to have said to my 22-year-old self that there'd still be a Big Red in five years, I'd go, 'Wow! Awesome,'" adds Carey.

Regardless of any outcome, one thing stays true on the Hill:

"There's only one Big Red, and he's ours," says Wilkins as she smiles at the energetic mascot.

The lawsuit will now be sent back to the Milan Court of Appeals, where WKU's legal team believes damages will be assessed for the assets that Gabbibo has required from Big Red's likeness.

This story will be updated as it develops.