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US university targets student Palestine group with trademark complaint

Students pass the bronze statue of their campus mascot, The Bruin, a California grizzly bear, at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) on 28 May 2018 [David McNew/Getty Images]
Students pass the bronze statue of their campus mascot, The Bruin, a California grizzly bear, at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) on 28 May 2018 [David McNew/Getty Images]

The National Students for Justice in Palestine (NSJP) yesterday claimed that the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) “is attempting to use trademark law to chill the free speech rights of students”, reported NBC News.

The university sent a cease-and-desist letter on 31 October over a promotional flyer used by NSJP to advertise its national conference, scheduled to be held at the school on 16 November.

“The flyer included a bear wearing a keffiyeh scarf reaching up toward a kite coloured to resemble the Palestinian flag and three doves,” NBC News explained.

“UCLA, a public university, demanded in its letter that the organisation not use renditions of the Bruin Bear, its mascot, in association with the Palestinian flag, which some interpret as an endorsement of violence against Israel,” the report added.

“A review of your website discloses use of the ‘UCLA’ name, and is an attempt to associate NSJP with the mascot of the Bruin Bear in a logo/digital poster for the national conference,” the letter states.

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“Taken as a whole, these uses claim, suggest, or imply an affiliation with or an endorsement by UCLA of NSJP and/or its national conference, which is simply incorrect,” the letter continued.

NSJP called UCLA’s commentary on its design a “racist and gross mischaracterisation” of the kite. “The group said the kite is a symbol of freedom for Palestinians and a common past time for children in Gaza. NSJP also denied using the specific UCLA Bruin Bear in its artwork”, NBC News added.

“In accordance with our yearly practice, we adopted a region-specific design for our 2018 conference”, the group said in a statement. “We chose to honour years of West Coast advocacy efforts calling for respect for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.”

The ACLU of Southern California sent UCLA a letter “alleging the university failed to enforce similar rules regarding the use of its name with past student events and that the selective enforcement of the California state rule regarding its name was being used to chill the students’ free speech”.

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“Your emphasis on how ‘some’ might perceive symbols of Palestinian freedom indicates that the real reason for the University’s unconstitutional censorship of SJP is the group’s support for Palestinian rights,” the ACLU letter states.

“Your sensationalist mischaracterisation of SJP’s viewpoint is further evidence of viewpoint discrimination.”

Tod M. Tamberg, a spokesman for UCLA said yesterday “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.”

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