University Educates Student On How Everyone Will Abuse Trademark Law

from the book-learnin dept

Institutions for higher education are no strangers to abusing trademark law, I suppose, what with Harvard one time looking to lock up all kinds of language, or the University of North Dakota bullying artists over a parody version of its defunct and abandoned sports team logo. But it sure seems to feel more egregious for a learning institution to blatantly bullshit one of its own students through trademark threats, which is exactly what Dixie State University did when it claimed a student's parody of its sports logo was trademark infringement.

Dixie State University’s new logo has already created some controversy, but not because of the mascot itself. Rather, it was a Facebook post during last week’s 4/20 cannabis culture holiday that had school authorities scrambling to stop what they said was trademark infringement. DSU student Ridley Larsen, who is currently taking a semester off, had used a copy of the new Trailblazers mascot and edited it to show a marijuana joint held in the buffalo’s mouth and a play on the words by changing “Trailblazers” to “Trailblaze It” with 4/20 printed above the wording.

And here is the student-artist's rendition in all of its hazy, smokey glory.

Not exactly Rembrandt, but then April 20th isn't an art holiday, I suppose. Anyway, this seemingly innocent, if childish, rendition of the school's logo was posted to Larsen's Facebook page as a joke. From there, a handful of people shared it and a decent number of people saw it. Apparently some folks within the school came across it one way or another as well, because they then completely lost their minds and pulled out the threat-hammer.

DSU official then sent Larsen private messages on Facebook and through his Dixie email account letting him know he had infringed on the school’s trademark.

“It was just a courtesy thing. It wasn’t an official message from our legal counsel or anything like that,” Hall said. “It wasn’t necessarily the content, and obviously we’re good with free speech and that wasn’t our concern. It was just the trademark issue.”
The suggestion that this was all done as a courtesy is, to put it mildly, bison shit. The message demanded the image be taken down on all forms of social media. If Larsen didn't comply, the message ensured him that his "trademark infringement" would be reported to the school's lawyers, with the obvious legal threat implied. Larsen did as instructed and no further action was taken by the school.

But let's not gloss over the fact that the threat is all based on lies used to bully a student at the school into the action it wanted. There is absolutely zero trademark infringement going on here. First, the image was not used in any kind of commercial way. Second, it is a clear case of parody of the original logo. And, finally, any school touting its own interest in free speech had damned well better have a better explanation for bullying and lying to one of its own students beyond, "This is just a trademark thing." No it isn't, it never was, and anyone purporting to have enough knowledge to even make such a claim would know as much.

Yet, as far as an education goes, Larsen certainly is getting one as far as trademark law and its common use as a bullying tactic is concerned. Welcome to the adult world, sir. It's a silly, villainous place, I'm afraid.

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  • identicon
    Christenson, 2 May 2016 @ 4:05pm

    Page 5...

    At my alma mater, in the four-page weekly newspaper, there was always an impossibly-numbered "page 5", and you could trust anything on that page to have its tongue planted firmly in its cheek.

    Old Dixie sure has channeled Barbara Streisand! Waiting for the new emblem to start showing up on stickers all over campus!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 2 May 2016 @ 5:00pm

    It seems the administration would be well served taking some classes about trademark law, and if they got advise from lawyers or professors supporting this stupid plan they should gut the entire department and sue to get their retainers back.

    One wonders how much time was wasted by the administration on trying to threaten a student. Given how there are many complaints about not having enough funding, this shows a clear case of money being wasted by an administration out of touch with reality.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Coyne Tibbets (profile), 2 May 2016 @ 6:00pm


      Course? Why? They already know what their legal standing is. That's the best part of being a $4 billion/year plus law university: you know what your legal standing is.

      They also know that the student is not going to be able pony up $500,000 to fight for his rights.

      All it cost the university to shut the student down is a couple of $150 hours of one of university's retained law firm's paralegals to threaten to crush the student. Why should that waste of time bother the university? It's worth it to get rid of the nuisance.

      No, like any major rights holder, they know full well what the score is: them, $300; nuisance student, silenced, unwelcome idea crushed, rights immaterial.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 May 2016 @ 2:35am

    What about a new logo?

    I say: Streisand smoking a joint while riding a bison!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tanner Andrews (profile), 3 May 2016 @ 4:35am

    Potential Unpleasant Surprise

    What happens if a non-student sees the post and redistributes the offending art, say, in a web forum? Are the school attys going to go after that web forum? I see two potential answers to this question: they do, or they do not.

    If they do not, then their claim against the student suddenly looks less viable. If the student finds out, he may revive his instances of the art, as well, on the theory that the mark holder (if such the school be) has abandoned its claims.

    If they do, they run the risk of running into real lawyers who happy disassemble them and leave the pieces beside the road for rubbish collection.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Isma'il, 3 May 2016 @ 9:07am

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but

    isn't this type of thing protected under the "Fair Use" doctrine of 17 USC Section 107? After all, he didn't do it for profit, as he freely disseminated his rendering via Facebook after modifying the original.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 May 2016 @ 12:01pm

      Re: Correct me if I'm wrong, but

      A lot of people and corporations like to pretend fair use doesn't exist. So when they threaten to sue or actually sue they completely ignore it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    hoare (profile), 3 May 2016 @ 9:15am

    Why does their logo look a lot like the Buffalo Bills logo?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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