Florida A&M University’s recent settlement with Internet porn company RK Netmedia Inc. sets a precedent for other universities to sue to protect their trademark, school attorneys said.
Alumni blogs and websites erupted when a sexually explicit online video, purportedly featuring students on the historically Black institution’s campus, was released on “Daredorm.com.”
University attorneys filed a complaint saying the “Big Rattler 77” video damaged FAMU and the reputation of its students with references to its mascot and school colors.
Remarkably, the Miami-based company immediately settled, apologizing publicly and agreeing to pay attorney fees and fund two scholarships valued at $105,000. Calls to the company and their lawyers were not returned.
“They were trying to make money by creating a video that falsely affiliated the actors with our university and having them participate in degrading conduct,” said FAMU’s lawyer Richard Mitchell of the GrayRobinson law firm in Orlando, Fla. “It was simply false and untrue. They were smart to settle this case quickly.”
“The resolution of this case represents a firm commitment by FAMU and its board of trustees to preserve the good name and reputation of this university for its students, alumni and the people of this great state of Florida,” said FAMU President James H. Ammons.
The university’s legal victory opens opportunities for other universities to safeguard their school under the Lanham Act, legislation that protects trademark rights against false advertising, infringement and dilution.
“In big-picture terms this defendant acknowledged that the university and all other universities have a protectable interest in their university color schemes especially when combined with insignia identifying the university,” said FAMU’s General Counsel Attorney Avery McKnight.
The video showed orange and green props inside the filmed dorm room as well as what appeared to be a wall clock plastered with the school’s mascot. The paid actors also made several verbal allusions to FAMU.
Going into the case, McKnight said there was no case law to prosecute trademark claims like this, but the “mischaracterization of FAMU students” was enough to compel FAMU board members to proceed.
RK Netmedia signed a statement of good faith to police the Internet and stop the video from appearing on other websites. If breached, the company would have to fund an additional four scholarships equaling $210,000.
Although the damage is done, FAMU students said, they are relieved the matter has been resolved.
“This was a home run. We got everything we asked for and a little more,” McKnight said.
FAMU attorneys said they have been contacted by other institutions in the wake of the settlement but refused to give any more details about future litigation.
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