Users can watch historic battles and other stories unfold in multiple locations around Alamo Plaza on the augmented-reality app Experience Real History: Alamo Edition. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The Texas General Land Office, which oversees the Alamo, believes a new augmented-reality smartphone and tablet app violates the historic shrine’s intellectual property rights and has referred the matter to its legal counsel.

“We intend to protect the intellectual property rights of the Alamo,” said Douglass McDonald, CEO of the Alamo. “We take the reputation and accuracy of history very seriously.”

An independent San Antonio company, Alamo Reality, launched the Experience Real History: Alamo Edition app this week, offering an augmented-reality view of the Alamo site as it stood on the day of the famous 1836 battle that has defined the legacy of the Alamo as an enduring symbol.

Alamo Reality had initially approached the Alamo and the Texas General Land Office (GLO) with the idea of partnering on the app, said Stephen Hardin, a noted Texas historian and professor of history who worked on the historical information facet of the app, along with other historians Gary Zaboly, James Boddie, and Richard Curilla.

No agreement was reached, Hardin said, and McDonald concurred. McDonald said the General Land Office (GLO) was unable review the app’s content prior to its April 16 release, and that no financial or licensing arrangement was agreed upon.

Representatives of Alamo Reality said they were unable to respond immediately to a request for comment, but confirmed Thursday evening that “we have not received any communications from the GLO … via mail or email” since the app launched, according to Leslie Komet Ausburn, vice president of public relations and marketing.

According to the GLO, the Alamo is owned by the people of Texas, but officially the State of Texas and the GLO have jurisdiction over the site and its operations.

Hardin, however, questioned the premise that the GLO controls such aspects of the Alamo as how its story is presented. “Who made them king of the Alamo?” he asked.

“We don’t need anybody’s permission to do what we’ve done,” Hardin said of releasing the app without entering an official licensing agreement with the Alamo. “They don’t own the Alamo’s story – it’s history,” he said. “They don’t have a leg to stand on.”

“The people of the world” own the story of the Alamo, Hardin said. “So the notion that the guys at the GLO know everything there is to know about the Alamo, and we’ve got to sign off with them, it’s just silly,” he said.

Hardin has written several books on Texas history, including Texian Iliad: A Military History of the Texas Revolution, published in 1994, and which drew on original Texan and Mexican sources. The book won awards from the Texas Historical Commission and the Sons of the Republic of Texas.

McDonald questions some points of historical accuracy in the app, such as the “blue cannons” featured in animated depictions of the battle, suggesting that the actual cannons used — which were instrumental in the Mexican army’s victory — were not blue.

“We only license products that we think are in character with the Alamo, and are consistent with its mission, and are historically accurate,” McDonald said.

When the app is activated on the Alamo plaza property, McDonald explained, “people make a presumption that the history and the content … has been approved and reviewed by the Alamo, and we have not done that.”

Another issue, McDonald said, is that “any commercial product which is activated on the grounds of the Alamo should actually benefit the Alamo, and help it carry out its mission.” He identified its mission as, in part, “to allow the Alamo to be free forever,” and not be dependent on state taxes or admission charges, and to carry out its educational programming.

“We think all of those things are a higher and nobler purpose than individual businesses benefiting by the use of our name, and by their conducting business on our property,” McDonald said.

However, he said, “We actually welcome partnerships with quality content providers who want to develop a licensing relationship with us. We welcome it and encourage it.”

As for Experience Real History: Alamo Edition, McDonald said: “We would hope that Alamo Reality would do the right thing, and would voluntarily withdraw their product until such time as we can vet the content, and come to a proper and formal licensing agreement.”

For his part, Hardin said he hopes the app will generate interest in the story of the Alamo and history in general. Alamo Reality hopes to get the app “in every fourth- and seventh-grade classroom in the state of Texas,” Hardin said, and “believe me, we’re working to do that.”

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with an indie rock...