Every year during election time at Florida A&M University, candidates use familiar logos and slogans in an effort to influence students to vote for them on election day.
In U.S. trademark law, under Title IV: Remedies, Section 32, it states, “any person who shall, without consent of the registrant use in commerce any reproduction…copy or colorable imitation of a registered mark in connection with… distribution… with which such use is likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive” is trademark infringement.
Several candidates have violated this law in the spring 2006 elections.
Some said they contacted the corporations to get permission to use their logos or slogans, but many of the companies stated that they did not give consent.
A representative from the Pizza Hut law department said it did not give permission to any candidates to use any of its logos or slogans.
“This isn’t the Pizza Hut logo, it is a variation. Someone on my campaign team has inside connections and they said the variation is OK,” said Philip Hamilton, 21, a fourth-year pharmacy student from Miami and candidate in the upcoming election. “This is happening because it’s easier to use a name affiliation than to start from scratch. I blame us all for lacking originality.”
“We know that it’s a rule that any campaign material that the university approves cannot have any material resembling a trademark or logo,” said Ranaldo Allen, 22, a senior business administration student from Jacksonville and graphic designer for Philip Hamilton’s campaign. “We put Philip Hamilton instead of Pizza Hut and we put yellow tape over the posters that were put up on university property.”
Also, the local Best Buy store said that it did not give consent to any candidates to use its logos or slogans.
“In speaking with the Electoral Commission, we were instructed to change the colors and we should be OK…we created our own slogan,” said Ryan Morand, campaign manager for Cyrah Hawkins, another candidate. Morand, 22, a fifth-year business administration student from Tampa also said, “We were not intending to infringe the trademark laws.”
A representative from Carsey-Werner, distributors of “A Different World,” said that it was unaware of any requests to use the “A Different World” logo. Kumasi Aaron, candidate, was unavailable for comment.
“Many candidates choose to use these popular trademarks for recognition,” said Monique Gillum, 19, a sophomore political science student from Gainesville, and a candidate for Student Government Association vice president.
Gillum added this helps students remember a candidate when they go to vote. “If they don’t remember their name…they’ll remember their catchy phrase or familiar logo.”
In most cases, the familiar logo serves as a way to not only promote the candidate but also his or her platform. What some students don’t know is that they can be sued if they do not receive permission from the company to use its trademarks.
“I e-mailed Proctor & Gamble and they e-mailed me back,” said Joyia Smith, 19, a sophomore agricultural and business economics student from Greenville, Miss. “I was able to get permission to use Joy dish detergent’s trademark as long as I did not deface or embarrass them. I do understand how important it is to get permission.”
For the past two years, FAMU has been implementing stronger campaign regulations in order to follow the U.S. trademark laws.
Rules to live by
The Electoral Commission supplies each candidate with a detailed packet containing all of the rules and regulations for the election including rules about trademark infringement before they declare candidacy.
The Statement of Agreement signed by the candidates for the spring 2006 FAMU student elections states, “I understand that I cannot use ANY trademarks and/or logos.”
“I went through the process of trying to get permission from Mercedes to use their logo but unfortunately I was not able to,” said Chasity Logan, 20, a junior political science student from Jacksonville, and a candidate for senior attendant. She said she eventually concluded that it was not worth the legal ramifications.
The candidates are not allowed to post anything on university property that has not been approved by the electoral commission.
These rules are imposed to protect the university from legal action but in some cases students may be breaking the law and may face serious lawsuits from major corporations.
A history of violations
In 2004, Black Entertainment Television contacted the Office of the General Counsel at FAMU and informed them that one of the candidate’s use of the BET logo was a potential infringement.
The rules governing the election became more stringent after this incident, said Electoral Commissioner Shaun West.
“The only thing we are responsible for is what has been posted on university property,” said West, 23, a graduate applied sciences student from Tallahassee.
In 2005, the general counsel office received revisions for the Student Government Association constitution and the student body statutes, including revisions in the election codes.
“When things are brought to our attention we specifically tell them to remove it or take it down,” said Shira Thomas, assistant general counsel for FAMU. “We can only police what we have control over.”
Since the university cannot be held liable for non-posted materials, the students are responsible in legal actions brought on by corporations.
“The electoral commission and SGA should do a better job in forcing students to be creative – instead of risking potential legal problems against students,” Gillum said.
Contact Nefertiti Williams and Nicole Bardo-Colon at firstname.lastname@example.org