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.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.
“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.”
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.