Tuesday, December 18, 2007

No Sloshkosh T-shirts for Christmas?!

The university publicity machine has sent cease and desist e-mails to a UWO student who was selling Sloshkosh and UW-Zero t-shirts on the web.

As much as I have been a proponent of cleaning up the image of our fair institution, this seems like a heavy-handed tactic to me. Does anyone seriously believe that fewer t-shirts with funny slogans on them will make UWO a better place?

Trademarking the two terms and then threatening someone who is already using them with a lawsuits smacks of the worst use of copyright/trademark law by UWO. Obviously, the student doesn't have the resources to stand up to threats from a state institution. Unless he is particularly ambitious, it is not likely he is going to find someone with the knowledge and resources to push back.

Besides which, wouldn't using the two terms be protected by his right to free speech? At worst, they are parodies of the official slogan/logo of the university. How can the university claim ownership of them? I understand trademark rules are about business usage, but how can this be?

I am hoping Tony Palmeri will clear this up for me. He is our resident free-speech guru.


Miles Maguire said...

I'm glad you noted this development, and I'm surprised that there has been so little reaction.

These legal threats are almost surely unenforceable.

Go here to learn more.

The problem is that someone would have to be willing to take the risk and go to court to settle the matter.

It's hard to enter into litigation with the goverment, given its unlimited time and legal resources.

Of course what's truly outrageous is for a university to be wielding such a stick to block free expression.

tony palmeri said...

I'll be teaching my Freedom of Speech in the United States class in the spring. That will provide me an opportunity to look more closely into this situation--trademark law and its relationship to the First Amendment is not an area that I am well versed in.

A university purchasing trademark rights to unflattering names is merely, it seems to me, the natural consequence of the corporatization of academia. The UW System is run on a corporate model, so it should not be surprising that the management uses heavy handed tactics against the "competition."

P.S. Miles and Martin Gruberg are much more worthy of First Amendment Guru status!

Archivista said...

Winneblogo, I think it's been I agreed with you on something. Welcome back!

There are several items that make the case for Mr. Bacon look winnable, from my perspective (being neither a lawyer nor a free speech guru).

First, there is a limited sort of "fair use" for trademarks, similar to copyrights but a bit more restrictive, but should still include some room for parody/commentary.

Second, the fact that these trademarks were registered strictly to limit the speech of others reflects incredibly poorly on the University, not only within a 1st amendment/free speech argument, but just generally, ethically. Based on my totally amateur opinion, I think this factor could be the most damning.

However, on the other side, the fact that these are T-shirts being sold for profit makes Mr. Bacon's side a bit less compelling than if they were, say, cease & desisting a website using the trademark with a "95 Theses" style list of the university's sins.

Nevertheless, I wish Mr. Bacon would have held off on surrendering until checking with a few sympathetic organizations who may have been able to refer someone.

And about the comment somebody wrote about being surprised there isn't more coverage/uproar... I think that the main factor in that is the end of the semester. Which makes me think that the timing is deliberate. If the University is still squelching speech under the cloak of trademark next semester, when we are back, I am sure there will be some of us who don't let the issue drop.

Archivista said...

it's been a while that is.

Anonymous said...

So just out of curiosity, does anyone know how much money this student has lost by not being able to sell these t-shirts? I have never seen anyine earing one of teh hirts so i assume the market demand was not very large

Anonymous said...

The "Oshkosh Win or lose we still booze" T shirt is funnier anyway and that is still available on his website, along with several other t shirts celebrating the drinking culture of Oshkosh, Madison, Stevens Point, LaCrosse........

CJ said...

College is a time of learning. Not just to get a degree, but to learn the soft and hard lessons life deals out.

The university feels an imperative need to protect it's reputation and has been taking consistent action to do so- particularly regarding alcohol consumption.

I'm sure there is a great awareness in the student body that the university has taken this stance.

The student has acknowledged that he should have trademarked the slogans a couple of years ago. Now he's learned one of the greatest business lessons that life or the university can provide.

Know your market, know your competition.

He'll either have to negotiate with the university or take the issue of infringement to court. From a business perspective he needs to ask himself if the cost of court outweighs his costs and what he stands to gain by winning. If he's got a couple hundred dollars worth of stock it's probably not worth it. If it's a matter of principle, hey- have at it. I'm not sure how it violates the right to free speech. I think a case of libel could be made by the university.

I'd learn from it and be on to something else worth my energies.

I'd be creating new slogans and trademarking them.
"Trademark THIS!" (with a "guy mooning" logo)
"Ze-Row" (with a cool dragon boat logo)
"Splash-kosh" (with a dragon boat)
"UWO U Will Obey (or Oblige)"
"Under Wangling Oligarchy"

Think of U-words, W-words, O-words... Utterly Wonderful Obviously--ok these are really corny, but you get the idea.

Parody some of the institutions and departments.

Don't get hung up on one idea or theme. You might actually think of ideas that "god forbid" the university approves of. :)

Remember- success IS the best revenge.

Anonymous said...

or maybe he should just trademark the Oshkosh t shirts (and Stevens point etc) that he already has before UW trademarks them as well.

Why fight UW in court for a couple hundred bucks an hour in lawyer fees when he can make money selling stuff not covered by UWO trademarks?

As noted in a previous post he already has other T shirts poking fun at the drinking culture at Oshkosh and other campuses for sale. And some of those slogans are a lot more creative than UW zero whjich has been around for decades.

Besides he was savvy enough to get his website mentioned in the newspaper which gives him plenty of free publicity. Winneblogo has also helped publicize his business.

all in all I would say he comes out ahead. I may even buy his stevens point t shirt for my cousins who went there.

University's attempt to prevent bad imagery fails

Those who want to make this a case of free speech, look at the website, Mr. Bacon does indeed express himself in products, photos and videos.

Douglas McCloud said...


Ah, this reminds me of the heady days of my youth at UW Madison back when dinosaurs walked the earth...

There was an enterprising street vendor that he co-opted the famous Bucky logo and instead of the closed fist posture Bucky was flipping the bird and the t-shirt read "f k 'em, Bucky". Had one of the shirts myself (boy was I cool)

Said street vendor was later tried on obscenity charges and his defense-I'm not making this up-was that it wasn't obscene as he didn't sell them in children's sizes.

Can't remember how that case ended or if the system went after them for a copyright infringement

Marilyn said...

Probably I'm pre-dinosaur era in my recollections but in the old school of my youth, "Oshberg" was the popular keyword identifying Oshkosh as very "small-town" and unsophisticated, not to mention the mentality of the population.

Despite being an Oshkosh "lifer," I thought the UW-O students hit the nail right on the head.