KBS Reference Desk: Appropriation of District Logo

Q:       We have recently learned that a disgruntled former employee has made a new social media page to disparage the District. His posts have included several calls to action for change in the District and a few nasty posts about particular board members. The profile picture he used is a picture of the district logo turned backwards. We have had a handful of people call the administration building and tell us they liked the page on accident thinking it was one of the District’s social media pages and were confused by the posts. Can we do anything to stop the former employee from using our logo on these social media cites?

 A:        Yes, the District may send the former employee a cease and desist letter requesting he stop using the District’s service mark and name in a manner that causes confusion.  

The District’s logo constitutes a service mark that associates the item with the school district. Service marks are used to distinguish goods, services and speech from competitors or other sources. The use of service marks is becoming more important as organizations increase their online presence through social media. The relative ease of copying or downloading a service mark for an individual’s own use makes regulation even more critical.  

Intellectual property laws protect organizations’ ability to prevent others from using the mark in a way that creates a likelihood of confusion. In some cases, however, an individual or outside organization may use an entity’s service mark if the use qualifies as “fair use.” Examples of fair use include criticism, parody, and comparison, among others. For example, if Organization B wishes to criticize Organization A, it may be able to use Organization A’s logo to identify which organization B is criticizing. However, fair use is not an absolute protection against an infringement claim. Even where criticism, parody, or another fair use is present, the ultimate test is whether the use of the service mark creates a probability or likelihood of confusion in the minds of the viewers as to the source of the message, good, or service. Where confusion exists, the use infringes upon the owner of the service mark and the use is impermissible. 

In the scenario above, the former employee is using the District’s logo turned backwards on its website to criticize board members and encourage change in the District. On the one hand, this may seem to suggest that the logo falls under the fair use exception for criticism and parody of the mark; however, when considering the probability or likelihood of confusion, the test fails. The phone calls from several viewers of the social media page provide evidence that the use of the mark is in fact causing substantial confusion as to the source of the posts.  

In situations such as these, the District’s first option is to send a cease and desist letter to the user of the service mark. A cease and desist letter shows that the District is aware of the use of its service mark and that the District objects. It also provides the individual with an opportunity to cease using the District’s logo prior to the initiation of litigation. If the individual does not stop the use, then the District may wish to seek legal redress through an infringement lawsuit. When in need, consult your school district’s attorney for drafting of cease and desist letters.

Related Posts

Recent Articles

KBS Reference Desk: Accelerated and Supplemental Instruction HB 4545
September 17, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Active Threat Excercises
September 10, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: HB 1927 Firearms
September 3, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Remote Participation in Board Meetings
August 27, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Waiving Minimum Attendance Requirements for Seriously Ill Students
August 20, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Inquiring About Vaccine Status
August 13, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Temporary Suspension of TPIA due to Catastrophe
August 6, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Standard for Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect
July 30, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Bullying Policies and Reporting SB 2050
July 23, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Homeschoolers and UIL
July 16, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: TOMA Suspension Extension
July 9, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Revision to Resignation without Penalty Deadline
July 2, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: SB 179 School Counselors
June 25, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: 2021 TRS Surcharge SB 202
June 18, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: When do Virtual Board Meetings End
June 11, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Buy American Program
June 4, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Board Member with Substantial Interest Closed Meeting Attendance
May 28, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Administrator Reassignments – Same Professional Capacity
May 21, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Vaccine Complications and FFCRA
May 14, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Importance of Contract Legal Review
May 7, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Negotiating Resignations
April 30, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Authority to Create New Position
April 23, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Vaccine Incentive Programs for Employees
April 16, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Felony Conviction and School Board Candidates
April 9, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: T-TESS Rubric Virtual
April 2, 2021