I just received the following nastygram from one Mr. Thomas Bruce, alerted by VP Susan Murphy to the blog’s presence:
I am writing to request that you remove the name Cornell University from the name of your blog and website at cornell.elliottback.com. While we appreciate your hosting a forum in which Cornell news and events can be discussed, your use of the words Cornell University on the blog is confusing and can easily be misinterpreted to mean that the blog is maintained and/or sanctioned by the university. In fact, neither is the case.
Cornell University is a trademarked name and can only be used with the permission of the university. More specifically your use of the Cornell University name in this manner is unauthorized, misleading, and in violation of Section 397 of the General Business Law of the State of New York.
Thank you for your understanding and cooperation. I trust you will attend to this matter quickly.
Thomas W. Bruce
Vice President for University Communications
308 Day Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
Since I’m too busy right now to get into a big fight about trademark confusion, I’ve changed the Blog title to “Cornell Blog: An unofficial blog about Cornell University”, which can’t possibly be confused as being related to Cornell University proper. Clearly, Mr. Bruce was too lazy to read the two obvious disclaimers that disavow any connection with the University. I wonder if he knows about the two livejournals bearing the University name:
I’m also changing the name because it appears New York State has a special sheltering provision (General Business Law Sct. 397) for non-profit institutions that allow them to enforce their trademarks more forcefully:
397. Unlawful use of name or other identification of certain non-profit organizations. 1. No person, firm, association or corporation shall use, for advertising purposes or for purposes of trade, the name, symbol, device or other identification of any non-profit corporation, … without having first obtained the written consent of such non-profit corporation, association, society or organization. Any violation of this section shall be a misdemeanor.
I’d like to point out that the url alone–cornell . elliottback . com–is enough to prevent trademark confusion. The EFF seems to agree with me:
Can I use a trademark in my blog’s name or in the title of a blog post?
Yes, if it is relevant to the subject of your discussion and does not confuse people into thinking the trademark holder endorses your content. Courts have found that non-misleading use of trademarks in URLs and domain names of critical websites is fair. (Bally Total Fitness Holding Corp. v. Faber, URL www.compupix.com/ballysucks; Bosley Medical Institute v. Kremer, domain name www.bosleymedical.com).
I will email back Mr. Bruce and forward him some of these thoughts. I don’t think Cornell University can truly be called an institution of higher learning when it’s bent on shutting down an intellectual discussion-community using its name.
Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing writes, “Elliott’s site won’t confuse anyone. It is, instead, a fan site about Cornell University, spreading goodwill about the institution. Priceless, genuine goodwill. They’ve squandered this goodwill.” I definitely appreciate the support!
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