Early this year the International Laser Class Association (ILCA) asked its membership to vote for a fundamental rule change, which would if ratified by ISAF, bring about a major change on the class structure.
In a document presented to ILCA members worldwide by the Laser Class President Heini Wellman there was a strong pre-amble on why Laser sailors should support the change, voting Yes (unlike most democratic referendums – there was not a Vote no argument)
Heini Wellman said – ‘a builder also needs a building agreement from Bruce Kirby or Bruce Kirby Inc. (the original designer of the Laser.ed) This provision is mostly historical. The rule was instituted at a time when Bruce Kirby held certain design rights. The ILCA is not a party to any of these 'Kirby' agreements.
‘We also took legal advice. We understand this is the only possible solution in order to promote the uninterrupted supply of class legal Laser boats and to maintain ILCA in its current set-up. The lawyers also informed us that the Kirby design patents had in fact expired.
‘Therefore, we are proposing to change the rule to eliminate the 'building agreement from Bruce Kirby or Bruce Kirby Inc' requirement.'
This week the Laser Class President Heini Wellmann and Class Executive Secretary Jeff Martin announced that after the vote by International Laser Class membership to change the class rules, they will be applying to ISAF to have that change ratified.
The response from Bruce Kirby, was forthright
‘You will be aware that the Laser Class (meaning the sailors) have voted for a rule change, part of which would allow the Laser Class to appoint builders, rather than Bruce Kirby Inc, which owns the rights to the Laser design. (‘The official name for the Laser is the Kirby Sailboat.)
‘This vote was taken at the urging of Heini Wellmann, Laser Class president.
‘In Wellmann’s proposal to the class he has stated erroneously that the Kirby Inc rights have expired in Europe.
‘These rights are based on Designer / Builder contracts, not on copyright, and they are valid with all Laser builders - Performance Sailcraft Europe, Laser Performance in the U.S.A., Performance Sailcraft Japan and Performance Sailcraft Australia.
‘The International Sailing Federation (ISAF) must decide whether it will allow the class vote to stand or be disregarded.
‘The legal right for the Laser Class to interfere with these long established builder contracts is very doubtful.
‘And any such change in the Class rules would not alter Kirby Inc’s rights to appoint builders.
‘So if such a change were approved, the confusion for the Class, builders, and 200,000 sailors would be devastating. ‘
Looking at these two statements there is a stark difference, with the Class President having made assertions, about contracts and their contents but then saying neither the ILCA or the ILCA lawyers and seen the contracts.
And Kirby who has obviously been working with those contracts for 40 years saying Wellman is wrong.
Kirby also asserts ‘ the notice for the voting was issued long before Kirby Inc. was able to make arrangements to re-establish his design rights, so that most of the class were concerned that there was no proper direction in class affairs.
'However Kirby Inc re-established its ownership of the design rights on Sept. 22, 2011 and the voting obviously would have been very different if this had been the case when the voting opened. Class members were not allowed to change their vote once it was made!’
It seems there is a serious commercial disagreement between two large Laser builders and Kirby, who alleges he is owned significant amounts of money by those two groups.
The Laser Class World Council is scheduled to meet this coming weekend and it appears there is some discomfort amongst the Council members, over the possibility that the pre-amble copy was not factual, as Bruce Kirby alleges and this casts doubt on the validity of the vote.
One can imagine that this mess might be ringing alarm bells at ISAF. It has been also been alleged by some influential members of the ILCA, not in favour of this rule change, that ISAF has previously let it be known that this change was unlikely to be ratified by ISAF.
The outcome of the ILCA World Council meeting will be most interesting.