The ACLU Foundation of Southern California and a Palestinian legal organization wrote to UCLA Wednesday to refute the school’s claim that a California grizzly bear logo used by a Palestinian rights student group is a violation of the school’s Bruin Bear trademark.
The bear image used by National Students for Justice in Palestine and Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA is featured in a poster advertising an upcoming conference. The university recently sent a cease-and-desist letter to the event’s organizers threatening legal action if they did not stop using the bear image.
The ACLU denies the student groups’ logo resembles the Bruin symbol, sometimes shown carrying a football.
The students’ original artwork depicts a bear in a sitting position, wearing a keffiyeh scarf that is a symbol of Palestinian solidarity, the group said. The bear is gazing up at a kite, a symbol of freedom, bearing the colors and design of the Palestinian flag flying alongside three doves symbolizing peace, according to the Palestinian legal group.
On Oct. 31, students organizing the conference received a letter from UCLA Vice Chancellor Michael Beck requesting that the organization stop using the bear imagery. The letter threatened “claims” and “additional remedies,” including cancellation of the conference, according to the students.
“The University of California cannot claim exclusive rights to the concept of a bear,” said Brendan Hamme, staff attorney for the ACLU SoCal. “The grizzly on the poster simply bears no resemblance to the UCLA Bruin.”
Liz Jackson, attorney for Palestine Legal, added that UCLA cannot use trademark law to stop the student group from supporting Palestinian freedom.
“That’s the bare fact,” she said. “It would be funny if it weren’t so serious. SJP already faces death threats, a barrage of false accusations, and a documented years-long campaign at UCLA and elsewhere to suppress their speech rights.”
Hamme added, “If the First Amendment means anything, it means that the government can’t suppress speech because it opposes the viewpoint of the speaker.”
For more local news, the former chief of SoCal ACLU died at age 91.