DAVIS, Calif., August 27, 2015—The University of California, Davis (UC Davis) has reversed its punishment of a student club, concluding that the Ayn Rand Society at UC Davis (ARS) did not violate the university’s trademark policy by using the university’s name in its club title and Facebook page Web address. The about-face comes after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) wrote to UC Davis last year, asking university officials to review and retract the punishment because it violated the students’ First Amendment rights.
“FIRE is pleased that UC Davis took this opportunity to examine its policies and develop an approach that safeguards the First Amendment rights of its students,” said Ari Cohn, an attorney and senior program officer for legal and public advocacy at FIRE. “Too many colleges and universities attempt to control their public image by enacting overbroad policies that unacceptably regulate all uses of the institution’s name by students.”
ARS contacted FIRE for help after the university’s Center for Student Involvement (CSI) demanded ARS change the URL of its Facebook page, which contained the letters “UCD.” The Center said the use violated CSI’s trademark policy, which warns that violators could face criminal punishment. After ARS reported that it could not change the URL, CSI instructed the group to delete the Facebook page entirely. When ARS refused to comply, the group lost its “good standing” status, including its listing on UC Davis’ student organization search page, as well as its ability to reserve campus meeting rooms and apply for funding and grants.
FIRE wrote to UC Davis on December 10, 2014, reminding the university that the law protects non-commercial use of trademarks where there is no substantial likelihood of creating confusion. FIRE noted that ARS’ use had no commercial purpose and would not mislead readers into believing the group’s speech was officially sanctioned or endorsed by UC Davis.
Earlier this month, Center for Student Involvement Director Anne Reynolds Myler notified FIRE and ARS President Hong Phuc Ho Chung that UC Davis concluded ARS’ use “is consistent with our practice of allowing use of the name to designate location (e.g., Ayn Rand Society at UC Davis).” Myler wrote that the club’s status would be restored and thanked FIRE and Chung for bringing the policy to UC Davis’ attention.
“This has given us an opportunity to think critically about our policy and has helped us clarify our practice moving forward,” Myler wrote.
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.
Katie Barrows, Communications Coordinator, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org