This bumper sticker may be one of the most well-known on the planet; the phenomenon encourages different people to live together in peace and harmony. In a strange twist of fates, this symbol has been the focus of multiple legal disputes and licensing claims.

A Wholesome Start

Polish graphic designer Piotr Mlodozeniec originally designed the first Coexist logo for an Israeli art contest in the year 2000. The contest theme was “Coexistence” and offered a generous prize for first place, so Mlodozeniec threw his hat in the ring.

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Wojciech Łaski/East News

Mlodozeniec is the son of an iconic Polish poster designer, Jan Mlodozeniec, and this logo provides a lasting memory of Piotr’s father.

The Coexist logo wasn’t the first time Mlodozeniec used the cross as a T in a design; the artist incorporated this symbol into a logo for a band and, according to Vox, that band’s logo “was one of the last works [Piotr] showed to his father before Jan died in 2000.”

So now when Mlodozeniec sees the cross T in his Coexist logo, he is reminded of his famous father.

Mlodozeniec’s submission didn’t win the contest, but the image did earn a spot on tour with other artists’ works. Eventually, the logo was adapted as graffiti in Europe and across the globe—even winding up on a headband worn by U2 frontman, Bono, during the band’s 2005-2006 international tour.

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U2Trinity/Photobucket

A Surprising Letter

As U2 was on tour, using his logo in their performances, Mlodozeniec received a letter from the U.S. asking if he would give permission for an upstart company of recent Indiana University graduates to use his Coexist logo.

These students had already trademarked their “reworked” version of the logo and incorporated a company named “Coexist, LLP” in 2003.

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Piotr Mlodozeniec

These students needed the designer’s okay so that they could sue other companies that were attempting to use the logo for their own gain.

The recent graduates had been operating their business as if they had already received the blessings of Mlodozeniec, but he had never heard of them before.

“Dishonest People”

Mlodozeniec was finally reached in July of 2005 by a blogger writing for a U2 fan site, and he didn’t mince words about his feelings towards the Indiana-based company that was using his logo:

“Of Coexist” the blogger wrote, “[Mlodozeniec] says the company promotes a feeling that they are idealistic and for the peace, but they are only interested in the money. They are dishonest people.”

The Polish artist elaborated: “They phoned me. They tried to ask me to give them permission. I told them I don’t like it and I want them to stop doing this…”

“They make the suggestion that I have approved what they are doing. The truth is, I am strongly, strongly against them…. As it is not enough, they are suing other people who use this design. So I do very strongly oppose that.”

Protracted legal battles lasted for years, and eventually, the Indiana-based entrepreneurs moved onto other projects.

A New “Owner”

Both Mlodozeniec and the Museum on the Seam, who hosted the art contest to which the Polish designer originally submitted the logo, seemed to have the strongest legal claims to the Coexist logo, but in the last few years, another company has taken the appropriate steps to receive licensing rights for the iconic piece of art.

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Coexist Campaign/Twitter

Tarek Elgawhary is the CEO of Coexist. The leader of this international organization saw this logo as a great opportunity to promote the foundation that he runs, so he did the proper legwork to procure clear licenses for Mlodozeniec’s original logo and for the version commonly seen on bumper stickers, designed by Jerry Jaspar.

Elgawhary’s foundation doesn’t fit into the traditional model of a non-profit nor is it a corporate enterprise; its work lies somewhere in between:

“Coexist’s mission is to build social cohesion by sourcing high-quality products from conflict zones around the world. By bringing together communities with a history of conflict, we strengthen the bonds between them and create a new generation free from prejudice, hate, and violence. Coexist grew out of the Coexist charity to support the livelihoods of communities that we have worked with around the world. Profits are reinvested into the Coexist charity to support projects around the world.”

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American Turban/Twitter

Coexist’s products include organic, fair trade cotton t-shirts, organic coffees “sourced from conflict zones around the world,” and, of course, the iconic bumper stickers.

If you’re feeling guilty about potentially owning a counterfeit bumper sticker that only lined a businessman’s pockets instead of supporting a good cause, you can make a donation to the Coexist foundation or purchase their other products online.

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