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PTA, School Family Media reach settlement, lawsuit dismissed

The National PTA and the parent company of PTO Today announced Monday that they had resolved their differences and the PTA’s copyright infringement lawsuit had been dismissed.

The iconic, 115-year-old Parent Teacher Association — until recently based in Chicago — had filed the suit against School Family Media, based in Wrentham, Mass., accusing it of deceptive trade practices, false advertising and disparagement of the “PTA” name.

The lawsuit, filed in September in U.S. District Court in Chicago, highlighted the PTA’s struggles with declining membership. At its peak in the 1960s, the nonprofit boasted 12 million members. Today, it’s 5 million.

The PTA and School Family Media, a for-profit media and marketing firm, said Monday that the lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, with no damages to be paid. Terms of their settlement were not released.

“Both parties are pleased that they were able to resolve differences and avoid the necessity of a trial,” they said in a joint statement.

“This is a good day for all,” School Family Media founder Tim Sullivan said.

“Our concerns were addressed in the settlement,” PTA spokeswoman Abi Weaver said.

Among the PTA’s complaints was that School Family Media, which spawned “PTO’s,” or parent-teacher organizations, had been using the “PTA” name on its website and materials with impunity, and soliciting PTA members to leave, start a PTO and buy its services.

The 13-year-old company had denied the charges. Countersuing, Sullivan maintained that he could invoke the “PTA” name under his First Amendment rights, and in the interest of fair competition. He also maintained that the “PTA” lost its trademark status when the name became widely used by many to describe parent-teacher groups in general.

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