In 2003, Western Kentucky University sued Silvio Berlusconi's (the former Prime Minister of Italy) company Mediaset for $250 million after they learned of an Italian character named "Gabibbo" that shared a striking resemblance to the Hilltoppers' beloved mascot Big Red. However, the school's original suit only advanced as far as the lower courts before losing in the Italian court of appeals because of possible foul play.
"There have been allegations that the original attorney that went to represent Western Kentucky committed some sort of sabotage in the way that it was filed in the Italian courts," said ESPN Sports Business Reporter Darren Rovell, who has been following this case since its beginning 15 years ago. "The relationship was compromised in some way."
The university then refiled their claim following the defeat, except this time they teamed up with Ralph Carey, the man who created Big Red in 1979.
"It's basically the same suit," Rovell said.
Same suit perhaps, but this time with a different result. On Wednesday, the highest court in Italy ruled in favor of WKU and Carey's plagiarism claim, meaning the case will be refiled and head back to the Milan Court of Appeals.
The case is the first of its kind, which isn't a surprise given the lack of interest globally in American collegiate athletics, but the cause of it potentially stems from Big Red's international licensing rights being sold to Mediaset.
"The issue is that these rights were sold, and then they essentially couldn't be used because Gabibbo was essentially Big Red," said Rovell.
15 years is a long time for case to carry on, especially one as strange as this, but it's not surprising given the fact that this specific case is taking place abroad rather than in an American courtroom.
"Any time you are going into a foreign court, it's gonna be more difficult," Rovell said.
There is currently no exact timetable as to when a final decision will be made, but a representative from WKU says the school is expecting the case to take another five to six years until it's finally resolved.