Friday, March 14, 2014

Wants to Use College Logos for Cheerleading Site

Dear Rich: My partner and I are launching an informational website about college cheerleading. We are featuring squads from across the country. On one page, we list all of the schools featured on our site. We would like to use those various college logos, just to add some visual excitement to the page. Can we do this without permission from each school we feature? We think your use may be permissible but without knowing more about your website, we can't say with any certainty. So, because of the frequency of trademark lawsuits by colleges it may be worth investing in an attorney's opinion before launching your cheerleading enterprise. In any case, here's how an attorney may analyze the situation.
Nominative trademark fair use. As you may be aware, editorial (or "informational") trademark uses that inform, educate, or express opinions, are protected under free speech principles (sometimes referred to as "nominative trademark fair use"). But not all informational uses qualify -- for example, baseball cards provide information but baseball card manufacturers license rights from the MLB.
What are the standards? When determining nominative fair use, a judge may ask: Is there likelihood of confusion -- that is, are consumers likely to believe the colleges endorse or are associated with your site? If so, was the use of the college logos necessary to identify the schools? Did you make minimum use of the logos? Did you do anything to imply sponsorship or endorsement by the colleges? Here's more on how these decisions are made.