March 2, 2005
Arizona State University is threatening legal action against a fledgling off-campus newspaper if it doesn’t stop using "ASU" in its name.
ASU Underground has drawn the ire of ASU officials less than two months after its first issue.
Ben Powers, publisher and editor, received a letter this week from a law firm saying ASU owns exclusive rights to the ASU brand under federal law. The brand can be used as part of a newspaper title or logo only with the permission of the university.
"The law requires the University to police its mark and to stop others from making any uses of the ASU mark, like yours, that would be likely to cause confusion," the letter says. "Hence, under trademark law, the University has no choice but to do whatever it takes to stop your unauthorized use of the ASU mark both in your domain name and the newspaper name."
Powers, a journalism and history major at ASU, said the university is forcing him to choose between legal action or principle.
He said the third edition of the independent student-run paper, which was published today, has a new title — ASYOU Underground — as a concession to the university.
"They could file a lawsuit and sue us for their attorney fees," he said. "We don’t want to anger anyone. We just want
to prove a point that it’s ridiculous."
But, Powers said he plans to change it back in the future, even though he recognizes he’s risking legal action.
Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., said the watchdog group is ready to help and support the publication.
Goodman said it’s frustrating that ASU didn’t try to resolve the issue without lawyers.
"My guess is if another university had a problem with trademark issues, they’d have the decency to call the editor and talk about it first," Goodman said.
ASU officials said Tuesday the university frequently sends similar letters to businesses that try to use its name as part of theirs. "We would not authorize the use of ‘ASU’ in any way in the logo for the publication," ASU’s legal department said.
The university said it doesn’t object to the use of ASU in a subhead, such as a line that says the paper covers the ASU community, but doesn’t want it in the main title.