Patrick Henry College is blocking access to an anonymously written blog about being gay at the Virginia Christian school, Trevor Baratko reports. Chancellor Michael Farris demanded the removal of “Queer at Patrick Henry College” on Dec. 1:
“This page is in violation of our copyright of the name Patrick Henry College,” Farris wrote. “… you must remove this page at once. On Monday, we will began (sic) the legal steps to seek removal from Facebook and from the courts if necessary. In the process of this matter we can seek discovery from Facebook to learn your identity and seek damages from you as permitted by law. The best thing for all concerned is for you to simply remove this page.”
The next day, Farris walked back the threat, saying he wanted to “withdraw my note from yesterday.”
While we believe in the inappropriate nature of the use of our trademarked name, we believe that litigation is not appropriate.
In an email to Poynter, Student Press Law Center attorney Adam Goldstein said he didn’t think the college would have much of a case if it pursued the bloggers on trademark grounds: “Queer at Patrick Henry College isn’t selling anything, they aren’t offering any services, and as far as I can tell, they don’t even have advertising on their pages,” he writes.
From the trademark perspective, it’s a little bit like a third party selling aftermarket parts for a Honda Civic. While I have to be careful I don’t confuse consumers about the origin of my parts, … at some point, the package has to be able to use the words “Honda” and “Civic” or you won’t know what I’m trying to sell. So how do you do a blog about being gay at Patrick Henry College without using Patrick Henry College?
Goldstein also notes that the United States Patent & Trademark Office lists Patrick Henry College’s trademark as “Abandoned because the applicant failed to respond.”
Farris also told Baratko the blog was a “hoax.” “We don’t think that there are any such [gay] students” at Patrick Henry College, he said. One of the bloggers showed Baratko her diploma from the school.
A source told Baratko the school had blocked access to the blog through its WiFi network. “They’ve never blocked anything the way they’ve blocked this,” the source told the paper.