The ACLU Foundation of Southern California and Palestine Legal today wrote to the University of California Los Angeles to strongly refute the school’s claim that a bear logo used by a Palestinian rights student group is a violation of the Bruin Bear trademark.
The bear image used by National Students for Justice in Palestine (NSJP) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at UCLA is featured in a poster advertising an upcoming conference. It does not remotely resemble the cartoonish Bruin symbol, sometimes shown carrying a football.
The original artwork of the student group depicts a bear in a sitting position, wearing a keffiyeh scarf that is a symbol of Palestinian solidarity. The playful bear is gazing up at a kite, a symbol of freedom, bearing the colors and design of the Palestinian flag flying alongside three doves symbolizing peace.
Indeed, the bear on the poster is a California grizzly. And as the letter from the ACLU SoCal and Palestine Legal points out, the grizzly is “the official state animal of California since 1953, which adorns the state flag of California.”
On October 31, students organizing the conference received a legal threat letter from UCLA Vice Chancellor Michael Beck ordering them to “cease and desist” from using bear imagery. The letter threatened “claims” and “additional remedies,” including cancellation of the conference.
“The University of California cannot claim exclusive rights to the concept of a bear,” said Brendan Hamme, staff attorney for the ACLU SoCal. “The grizzly on the poster simply bears no resemblance to the UCLA Bruin.”
Liz Jackson, attorney for Palestine Legal, commented: “UCLA can’t use trademark law to stop SJP from supporting Palestinian freedom. That’s the bare fact. It would be funny if it weren’t so serious. SJP already faces death threats, a barrage of false accusations, and a documented years-long campaign at UCLA and elsewhere to suppress their speech rights.”
Hamme added, “If the First Amendment means anything, it means that the government can’t suppress speech because it opposes the viewpoint of the speaker.”
The ACLU SoCal and Palestine Legal letter requests a response from UCLA by November 9, confirming that they will not be taking legal action against the students and asking them to create policies and practices to protect First Amendment rights.
In a statement from NSJP, Ayesha Khan said: “We are simply trying to bring together hundreds of passionate young people committed to equity and respect for human rights, as we have done for many years. I am saddened and appalled by UCLA administration’s dismissal of continued harassment and abuse on social media and on their own campus, in an effort to appease other groups and institutions whose political viewpoints they favor.”
See comparison of Bruin and SJP bears here.
Read the full letter from Palestine Legal and the ACLU SoCal here.
Talk about dishonest.
There is little doubt in my mind they were co-opting the UCLA Bruins Bear, knowing what I do about the palestinians and their supporters’ history of co-opting symbols for their own purposes. And at least one legal expert posits that despite the differences in appearance between the bears, there is a chance for confusing the two.
Intellectual property expert Michael N. Cohen, owner of Cohen IP Law Group, told NBC News on Wednesday that the legal standard for trademark infringement is the likelihood of confusion in the mind of the consumer. And use of the university’s name is restricted so that it won’t imply the school is affiliated with, or is endorsed, favored, or supported by any groups without permission.
“So even if the [images] — if you do a side-by-side analysis — look different the true question is if it will cause confusion with the mind of consumers in the regard to affiliation, endorsement or support,” Cohen said.
Cohen also said that the argument that NSJP was using the state as inspiration does not protect it from the law because of how strongly UCLA is connected in people’s mind with its bear mascot.
“That’s a possibility of a defense, which if they haven’t made already they can likely raise, but the counter argument would be that because UCLA is hosting the event that the association will be stronger with the UCLA bear rather than the state of California,” Cohen said.
Plus now they are claiming no-one owns the symbol of a state animal?
As for their contention that the keffiyeh is merely a symbol of “Palestinian solidarity”, that argument went out the window with arch terrorist Yasser Arafat making it his own. And the kite a “symbol of freedom”? Perhaps before the Gazans started flying them in to Israel with swastikas drawn on and incendiary devices attached.
Perhaps my biggest chuckle was over their claim that “We are simply trying to bring together hundreds of passionate young people committed to equity and respect for human rights, as we have done for many years.” This coming from an organization founded by antisemites, terror supporters and those with terrorist connections.
Disappointingly, it looks like UCLA is going to allow the conference to take place.
Tod M. Tamberg, a spokesman for UCLA told NBC News in an email on Wednesday “it was never about the bear all by itself” and that it appreciated the groups alteration to remove the UCLA name. The university, which threatened to cancel the conference, also said that the event would go on as scheduled.
“As you may have heard, some members of the Jewish community have been sharply critical of upcoming conference, demanding that UCLA move to cancel it,” the school said in statement provided by Tamberg. “As a public university, UCLA is legally bound to comply with the First Amendment, which protects everyone’s right to express their views, even those that are offensive and hateful or that the university opposes.”
Let’s keep the pressure on them to cancel – sign the petition if you haven’t already.