Thursday, September 06, 2007

Pushing the Boundaries Not of Knowledge, But of Acceptable Behavior: The Penn State Way

From today's Collegian comes news that Penn State has infringed on a trademark held by the Phoenix Coyotes of the NHL. The term "White Out" which refers to fans attending sporting events decked out in white was originated by the hockey team in 1987 when they were the Winnipeg Jets. The team notified the University last year that the use of the phrase by Penn State was a trademark infringement, but agreed to allow the University to use the phrase once this year. So, Penn State decided to modify the phrase to "White House". Guess what? According to Steve Weinreich, vice president of general counsel for the Phoenix Coyotes,

[A]ny variation on the term for marketing purposes is "in violation of the law," restricting certain posters, advertisements and garments around campus.

"As of last year, when we spoke with representatives from the university, they understood that they could use it one time," he said. "We had an agreement, and now they are apparently not living up to what they say."
The fact that Penn State isn't living up to its end of the agreement shouldn't come as any surprise to my readers. There is a long list of deals which Penn State has reneged on. The most notable is the deal which guaranteed that the Dickinson School of Law would remain in Carlisle in perpetuity. There is also the, as of yet unresolved, court case brought against Penn State by Centre County which claims that Penn State isn't living up to its end of an in-lieu-of-tax agreement. For Penn State it isn't about what is right, it is about what it can get away with. You don't think so? Greg Myford, associate athletic director of marketing tells us as much.
Trademark or not, Myford said a "White Out" is an object of school spirit, rather than a legally owned commodity.

"Frankly, our students and fans have already taken ownership of the term, so even if Penn State were not able to use the phrase legally, simply planting the seed with students to wear white at a designated game would be enough to get them spreading the word of an upcoming White Out," Myford said.
Of course, there is also the matter of hypocrisy in this story, an important component of the Penn State Way, which ,to her credit, Collegian reporter Lauren Boyer takes note of.
Weinreich said the term "White Out" is also a part of his company's legacy and equated it to another team calling themselves the "Nittany Lions" and bearing the same blue-and-white logo. In fact, this happened recently when a Morganton, N.C., high school was called out by the Collegiate Licensing Company for bearing an emblem "confusingly similar" to Penn State's trademarked lion head.

But Myford said the future use of "Penn State White Out" is different than the recent controversy surrounding the trademark infringing by the high school. "Them using our logo is basically someone else using copyrighted or trademarked material that has already been granted to someone else," he said. "Us using 'White Out' is making a claim for Penn State to be granted use of the term because the term currently isn't spoken for."
Why anyone has still has any pride in this university is beyond me.

Update: I almost forgot that Graham has been a strong voice in opposition to P2P file sharing of music on campuses and has often said that it is the responsibility of colleges and universities to teach students about the morality and legality of such activity. For example,

For colleges and universities, the decision in Grokster can be both a catalyst for renewed attention as well as a wake-up call to those colleges and universities that have yet to engage the issue. Specifically, we suggest that administrators consider the following:

Inform students of their moral and legal responsibilities to respect the rights of copyright owners.
Or this,
Yet despite these educational efforts, despite our compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and despite our technical interventions, it is probably fair to say that thousands of our students illegally download some amount of copyrighted material.

They are typical of college students nationally in this regard and are party to a practice that is morally wrong, is damaging to the entertainment industry, and is inconsistent with the values of honesty and integrity that students more typically profess.
This is just more of the Penn State Way.

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