20 November 2009

[IP] U of O Quacks Down On Viral Video – And They're In The Right. Here's Why.

2261.By now, everyone who's curious has seen it or is soon going to because of the buzz … the viral video "I Love My Ducks", by three enterprising UO students … and one registered trademark.

I Smell Roses @ Yahoo! Video

Now, I'll put my cards on the table right here; I'm bored by football – except for college football, and when it comes to that, I bleed Orange. So that's me for you. I think the smell of roses this year is a little stronger in Cow Valley than in Eugene (for more than obvious reasons).

But even though I'm not on "their" side, I'd be the last person in the world to deny their passion for their overrated honorable team. We pick our ponies and we fall in love with them; you roll your dice and take your chances. And sometimes, people who are not lawyers get so in love over their paramour that they forget that things like logos and trademarks and characters like the U of O Fighting Duck – which began life as Disney's Donald Duck – actually belong to someone else, regardless of the emotional investment the fan has.

Or, perhaps, in this case, they just didn't realize this. Or maybe they figured the U would go along once they saw what a good light the mascot was being used in.

The University of Oregon is very very careful about the use of thier marks. Always has been. You might remember in the last political campaign cycle, when Gordon Smith's US Senatorial re-election bid used a font that looked suspicously similar – some thought identical – to the distinctive font found on UO's athletic program, named – appropriately – Belotti Bold:

The probelm with Smith using this font for his campaign is that Belotti Bold is a bespoke font. Just as with so-called "bespoke" fashion, a bespoke font is one developed specifically for a certain customer and not released for sale. The customer – UO, in this case – has the sole right to use and is to whom all permissions must be obtained from.

I can't remember what effect it had on the Smith campaign organisation – I'm sure it embarrassed them just a little – and they removed the very-close-to-Belotti-Bold font from the website.

Actually, while the U of O undoubtedly clearly understands the unspoken message that could be contained within the appearance of the mascot in the video – that the U of O endorses it, at least tacitly – there's more than just that. The U of O Fighting Duck's resemblance to one very well-known Disney character is not just coincidence. As the duck, originally appearing in the 1930s, evolved in artistic depiction over the years, it began to resemble Donald more and more. Walt took note, and the then-athletic director of the U, Leo Harris, who was a friend of Disney, got him to agree on a handshake. Much later, in the 70s, this was formalized as an agreement that essentially licensed the use of the Donald-esque duck to the U of O only, and only by and for Oregon sports.

So, to chase this down to the bitter end, the U of O doesn't actually own the depiction of the duck – Disney does. And Disney allows the U to use it under a set of strict conditions. Conceivably, unless the U takes quick and decisive action, could the Oregon actually lose the right to use it?

The question has been asked and is now on the table. It seems possible. Oregon's marketing dept has actually been stuck in the position of having to be the bad guy.

Moreover, allowing this use would set a precedent. It's funny – when I was a kid, if a parent or someone in authority said "if I let you do it, I'd have to let everyone do it too", I resented that. As an adult I understand that you can't simply pick and choose here. Anyone following Supwitchugirl's effort, if allowed to stand, would be credibly able to point to that video and assert that if they were allowed to do it, so should others. And I'm not a lawyer, but I think they just might have a case there.

So … yeah. It's a painful fact of life, especially for some Duck fans, but the Universitas Oregonensis may seem to be a bit of a bully. But they're on solid ground here and have not only every right to demand the video be taken down but also every right to expect it to happen, the Streisand-effect propagation not withstanding. To protect a most unique relationship giving them the right to use a Disney character for a logo, they would indeed seem obliged to move in a decisive manner.

Some local Duckers are a bit alienated. I can understand why. The U has to be the buzzkill here, and is doing it to a turn. Personally, I don't want to see the Ducks cry over something like this … I'd much rather see them cry the minute the clock ticks off the last second of the Civil War the Beavers win, as they wave bye-bye to their Rose Bowl chance.

Hey, no hatin'. I do bleed Orange though, so there's me for you.

And, as far as I know, Benny Beaver has no cross-ownership issues. So, he has that workin' for him.

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