University Nixes Unauthorized Homecoming T-shirts

Adam Helmsing

Several students who have produced T-shirts for homecoming have received cease and desist letters from the university for infringement of copyright law.

Because of these student-made shirts, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Al Thompson sent out an email on Sept. 17 asking for all students to consider the legal implications of such designs. He reminded students that unauthorized products bearing the name or marks of the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point violates common law rights of the school.

“How do we want our university portrayed?” Thompson said. “What is the right thing to do? Are you going to be happy to have that out there in front of the world?”

While UWSP has no ability to prevent students from wearing clothing with reference to alcohol, the inclusion of UWSP trademarked symbols and designs has resulted in students receiving cease and desist letters.

“We don’t want the name UW-Stevens Point associated with indecent or profane material,” said Kate Worster, Executive Director of University Relations and Communications. According to Worster, she has sent multiple shirts and promotions to the License Resource Group where they determined if the designs violated copyright.

Sarah Ebert, a senior at UWSP, designed two of the shirts that the group determined were a violation of the copyright law.

“I received a private letter from a lawyer that said if we didn’t change the layout we could be sued,” Ebert said.

“I understand what they’re doing, but I’m a little frustrated,” Ebert said. According to her both original shirts made alcohol references in relation to Stevens Point, not UWSP, but contained unacceptable color. “They should let students be more creative without disallowing colors,” Ebert said.

Ebert is not the only student to voice concern over trademark colors.

Senior Katie Prosser also voiced her displeasure.

“The color thing really upsets me. I get it, it’s representation of the university but people who celebrate homecoming are proud of their schools,” Prosser said.

An alumnus, who requested not to be named, designed a shirt for homecoming as well. It reads “Avoid Hangovers Stay Drunk.”

She believes the shirt designs are all done in good fun.

“It’s just a fun welcome back for the students to reconnect with people they haven’t seen for a while,” the alumnus said. “The school puts on other events for those who choose not to drink. By making these shirts I’m not promoting underage drinking or binge drinking, I just want to be a part of the fun.”

“There is a way to celebrate homecoming in a very positive, upbeat, fun way,” Thompson said. “The shirts don’t have to be where certain messaging is being made through alcohol, sexual innuendo, or imagery that is demeaning. “

Thompson admitted that some of the shirts he has seen are funny, but many push the bounds of acceptable.

Communication professor Alex Ingersoll agrees that the designs are potentially problematic.

“This treads the line between satire and potential problematic speech in relation to binge drinking,” Ingersoll said. “In college culture there is a rising conversation which oftentimes approaches sexual violence and drinking as issues that are often deflected by satire and humor.” 

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