Colleges can be notoriously careful about protecting their brands. The University of Alabama, for one, is practically famous for getting tied up in trademark disputes. But a new court fight at the University of Delaware promises to make the Tuscaloosa battles over football paintings and cookies look boring by contrast.
The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., details the exploits of Benjamin Goodman and Adam Bloom, a pair of enterprising students who say the university violated their free-speech rights by squelching their plan to sell T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “U can suck our D” at a homecoming football game. That graceful taunt is apparently a common cheer used to heckle the home team’s opponents.
University officials got wind of the students’ plan and sent them a cease-and-desist letter, warning them that they could face punishment for selling the shirts. The students are suing for $35,000 in damages and other costs.
The university says it is protecting its trademark, not censoring the students. But the students believe they’re being singled out for other reasons because vulgar T-shirts appear to be a cottage industry on the campus:
Bloom and Goodman also said they saw other students selling shirts with the same “U can suck our D” phrase at the 2012 homecoming, and to their knowledge none was stopped from selling the garment or sanctioned by the school.
Goodman and Bloom believe they were targeted because they were more high-profile about their shirt sales—via social media and e-mail—and had thousands of followers.
If nothing else, the two students are right about the shirts’ being popular: The Review, Delaware’s student newspaper, covered similar hand-wringing in 2009. Back then, students tried to sell shirts with the same slogan in the university’s blue and gold, but changed the colors when the printing company said they needed the institution’s permission.
Mr. Goodman and Mr. Bloom, who already had their shirts printed up, aren’t so lucky: The newspaper reported that they had been left with “more than a dozen boxes” of the dirty laundry.