chain of causation

a series of events in the life of a lawyer

Reclaiming SRJC from the Internet

A certain Santa Rosa Junior College is claiming that using the letters ‘SRJC’ or the name of the school in an email address. The school has threatened legal action against those using email addresses in violation of the policy. Quite predictably, there has been substantial backlash from not only students but professors at the school in claiming that no reasonable person would accept as legitimate official communication from outside the domain and that the action is simply bureaucratic and a waste of resources to enforce.

While the administrations actions are not without merit in that they do not want unauthorized use of their trademark, they key evaluation here is the likelihood of confusion. Will consumers be confused as to the source-identification of email addresses containing SJRC not based out of the domain? Without a study there is no definitive answer but emprically the answer would appear to be no. Many financial institutions have had to deal with falsified emails purporting to be from them and as such have promulgated best practices to users as to identifying whether emails received are legitimate or fake. These practices have been around for several years now and hopefully by now most users are accustomed to verifying the authenticity of emails.

There is also the issue of fair use and free speech. Even though ‘Santa Rosa Junior College’ may be a trademark, I am permitted to use it in this context because it is impermissably difficult to constantly refer to it as ‘the educational institution of higher learning located in Santa Rosa.’ Furthermore, even though trademark provides protection against infringement it is not allowed to provide protection that supercedes First Amendment freedom of expression protections.

Ultimately, I believe the Santa Rosa Junior College is going to have a difficult time exacting compliance with its newly enforced policy in that SRJC may be used outside the college context (Santa Rosa Juggling Club perhaps). In addition, the lack of confusion amongst Internet users, and the defenses of fair use and freedom of expression will probably reduce the policy to going after those who truly intend to ride on the goodwill of the SRJC trademark for nefarious purposes.

Written by Vincent Kan

May 27, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Posted in Random

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