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Saga of the CC ’14 Shirts

Update: Victory at last! The 2014 Class Council has received permission to use the lion illustration on their shirts.

Sophomores in Columbia College are shirtless. They’ve been at Columbia for a year and a half, but still haven’t received any special “Class of 2014” shirts from the Class of 2014 Class Council. Today, the Council explained why the shirts still haven’t arrived in a 900-word letter.

The upshot: Columbia bureaucracy (in this case, Columbia Athletics) is ridiculous. It turns out that Columbia students are not allowed to use any images or illustrations of lions except for the official lion illustration of Columbia Athletics. And this official Columbia Athletics lion may only be used by the Columbia Athletics department or to promote a Columbia Athletics event. Anything else is “brand dilution.”

In other words, Columbia won’t let the 2014 Class Council make shirts with this picture of a lion because they’re worried that you (or an intellectual property judge) will confuse it with this one.

For better or worse, the Council objected to this absurd policy, arguing instead that “the lion, although the mascot of Columbia Athletics, is also the mascot of our University as a whole.” They’ve pledged to continue the fight until the bitter end, even if they don’t ultimately succeed. They know that history will ultimately judge their cause to be right.

And that, Columbia College sophomores, is why you still haven’t received your class shirts.

Dear CC’14

The topic of the class shirts is something that I know many of you are not happy with. It’s a situation that CCSC’14 isn’t happy with either. And it’s a situation in which you deserve to know exactly what has been happening. What we originally thought would be a simple job of creating these shirts has turned into an uphill struggle that to today we’re still trying to resolve.

Freshman year we asked the class to submit designs for our class shirt. After having the class vote by liking their favourite design on Facebook, there was a clear winner (pictured). After the winning design was vectorized, we took this to our council adviser for approval who then passed it on to the administrator who overlooks the use of Columbia logos. We were then given the news that we would not be allowed to use this design as no illustration of a lion is allowed to be used. Only the ‘Athletics Lion’ can be used and that in itself can only be used when promoting an Athletics event. The lion is trademarked by Columbia University’s Board of Trustees, for use by Columbia Athletics. While we understood that the University maintained control over the Athletics logo, we questioned the reasoning behind us being prevented from using a general silhouette of a lion.

At a CCSC meeting last semester, a representative from Athletics spoke about wanting to break down boundaries between students and Athletics, and creating greater community. If this was the case, we wanted to find a middle ground that allowed us to use a general lion design on a shirt that is intended to build class community. This is an issue we know other class councils and student groups have faced, such as ESC’14, which last year had a shirt design rejected because it featured the names of SEAS class of 2014 creating the shape of the Athletics lion head.

Despite this setback, it’s our duty as representatives of the class to advocate for that which we see as important to our class and the Columbia community. Our classmates in 2014 are creative, smart, and independent, and as your class council we want to support this design. So, in order to get to the bottom of this, we found the document from the US Patents and Trademark Office describing the nature of the university’s right to the lion logo and also contacted Columbia’s General Counsel for their opinion of the matter from a legal perspective.

In response to our request for an explanation of Athletics’ right to control the use of the lion image, we were informed that “because Athletics has built up general recognition of a lion image that is associated with Columbia (the version that has been registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office), the use of any other lion image in connection with the Columbia name can dilute that brand recognition.  Accordingly, Columbia does have the right to restrict any use of the lion image in connection with the Columbia name to the official image that has been registered.” Moreover, “the kind of control exercised by Columbia over the use of its name and images is common among our peer institutions.” We understand and respect the brand that CU and Athletics has built around the lion logo, but the lion, although the mascot of Columbia Athletics, is also the mascot of our University as a whole. That is why we asked other peer institutions about their experiences with trademark usage.

When our peer institutions within the Ivy League were asked whether they “differentiated between what Marks licensees can use vs. student groups,” the responses showed that Cornell, Brown, UPenn and Princeton do not have restrictions on the Marks used by student groups. Dartmouth does not have restrictions on the Marks used by student group, but Athletics does maintain courtesy approval on use of Athletics Marks. Yale approves Marks by Athletics only on a case-by-case basis. Harvard requires that all Harvard University departments/units, students, staff members and any Harvard affiliates contact their office to request use of name and licensing of Harvard trademarks on any apparel or insignia items.

The issue is not the use of the official Athletics lion, which we have been welcomed to do. Rather, we take issue with the claim that this design would cause trademark dilution — the fear that people who see the 2014 t-shirts might become confused and believe that our COLUMB14 lion is the real Columbia lion, thus harming the brand that Athletics has built up. That is why administration has denied our applications. More importantly, we take issue with the plain fact that the elected student government cannot use a picture of a lion on any apparel. Whether or not Athletics believes it will confuse consumers and dilute the trademark, the situation is still discouraging and upsetting for students who want to promote a healthier, happier, more united, and more spirited student body — one that is proud of the school it belongs to.

This is the information that has become available to CCSC’14 over the past year as we’ve been working on this issue. While we can’t say that there is a foreseeable conclusion, we ensure you that this is the design that you voted for and as such, we’re committed to seeing this through to the end, even if that means we’re unsuccessful. We hope that we’ll soon be able to have you all decked out in class gear.

While we do not necessarily see eye to eye with Athletics in regards to their control of the general lion, we appreciate the work that they put on, both on the field and off. It is our hope that the use of a lion on our shirts would merely strengthen this work that they do.

– CCSC’14

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  • CC14 says:

    @CC14 Keep fighting! This is ridiculous

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous ha! “brand dilution?” i think this is the least of the athletic departments problems. the school the athletics program isn’t a “brand” they’re communities and their potency should be measured by more meaningful things.

  • CC13 says:

    @CC13 The new lion design is awesome! I would want one, too. The Athletic’s dept ownership of the lion brand is ridiculous. I’m so down to start a petition. The students make up the school. Not our sports teams.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous You also can’t use a crown on your shirt unless it is the official crown logo (yes, there are 4 official crowns, and yes, only one of them is ok for shirts), and it cannot be placed at any sort of angle.

  • CC14 says:

    @CC14 Bootleg shirts, I say!

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Athletics needs to learn to LionShare

  • Sidd Bhatt says:

    @Sidd Bhatt As I have said before,


    1. For what it's worth says:

      @For what it's worth There are far easier ways to reduce the population of disgruntled students. It’s any student council’s job to try varied approaches. Even if they do manage to pass this shirt design, it’s not like they can campaign for the next 2 years with a slogan of “Hey! We got you a shirt you liked! We’re not sure what else we have done, but please vote for us again!” Council can’t spend all its efforts on one or two goals when time and effort can be spent on better causes than unifying students over their class shirt.

      SEAS Councils, take note.

      1. RR says:

        @RR I swear, nothing we do is ever good enough. :D

        I don’t know about you, but I think time spent “unifying students” over anything is time well spent.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous And then they wonder why alums don’t empty their wallets into the stone-headed bureaucratic coffers of Alma Mater.

    Mind you, we didn’t even have class shirts in my day. We had to wrap ourselves in used UFM bags and write our year on it with a Sharpie.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous i hope you don;t think these shirts are free. if students didn’t design, organize, and pay for them, we wouldn’t have them.

      also, the official columbia lion logo blows. keep fighting, ’14!

  • Oh Please says:

    @Oh Please SEAS shirts went through this sort of problem with branding and use of logos in previous years. SEAS Council was ineffective in solving that problem and practically just said “whatever, let’s just use the crest or something else.”

    As if this were a unique issue. Solve it or abandon it, sometimes rallying an entire student body isn’t enough to budge administrators anyway. From their perspective, as soon as they give way on this design they’ll have to give way on a large set of other logos knocking at their door, and POOF suddenly that brand dilution problem they are concerned about becomes a reality.

  • Truth says:

    @Truth Acquire capital by pre-selling ’14 shirts.

    Use capital to buy shirts independently of CU bullshit.

    Use CU money to host sick party where everyone will wear independently acquired shirts.

    If Columbia won’t let you have your shirts, just fucking go around them.

    1. dlc2146 says:

      @dlc2146 Yeah, except that’s even more illegal.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous that tshirt design is fucking amazing! props to whoever designed it. not being able to use it would be an abomination.

  • Helpful! says:

    @Helpful! For every downvote and/or unhelpful comment, I will be donating one (1) Motivation to my favorite organization, Students Allied with Rationally Stubborn Administrative Policies (SARSAP) and two (2) Motivations to my second-favorite organization, Students for Rational Thought Instead of Gut Reaction Anger.

    -watches red numbers skyrocket-
    (tl;dr neither side is completely justified, but nobody’s looking at compromises either, so we’re going to have to go with whatever results in more stability)

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Funny–after an almost winless football season , CU athletics worries that they still have a brand to “dilute.”

    In response to indignant reminders that our squash, swimming, and fencing teams are dominant, get real.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous just create an alternate design consisting of blown up headshots of uncooperative administrators and send it in for approval…

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Yo…what? 2013 sweatshirts totally have a lion on them

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Yeah. We fucking ruled. No rules. No administration. Just balls to the wall badassery.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous Also: Ryan Mandelbaum ain’t nothin’ to fuck with

        (I’m not Ryan Mandelbaum)

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous I completely agree that the t-shirt design is awesome, and that the “brand dilution” policy Athletics has is ridiculous. However, I think CCSC ’14 should realize the simple fact that they will never win this battle. Athletics has a stranglehold on many things at this university — an absolutely enormous budget, for starters — and the lion logo is just one of them. As unfair as their policy may be, as unfounded as their defense of it may be, a group of four sophomores elected to CCSC will never, ever win over all of Athletics. (For instance, this issue has even come up within Athletics itself, when some athletes wanted to change the lion logo to pink instead of blue to put on shirts for the breast cancer awareness games they hold. Of course, no alteration of the original logo is allowed, so the idea had to be scrapped.)

    As many downvotes as this post may get, I am truly just being realistic — Athletics is a behemoth of a department at Columbia, and because no one cares about sports here (besides the athletes themselves — which is totally justified, really) people don’t realize just how much power and money it has. Seriously, CCSC ’14, telling you to give up would sound a little harsh, but I think with the amount of dedication you’ve shown to this cause alone — what OTHER things not against Athletics policy could you accomplish? I would say a lot.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous There’s definitely no question that the entire CU athletics departments dwarfs CCSC in clout and resources. But I disagree that the situation is hopeless for a few reasons.

      First, we’re not talking about CCSC vs. athletics–that would be a no brainer. I think the obvious next step for anyone serious about resolving this issue would be to pit athletics against the full fury of CC ’14 by coordinating a letter-writing campaign to Prezbo. Never underestimate our well-documented ability to bitch effectively for seemingly trivial concessions from the CU administration.

      Besides, the concession in question isn’t THAT big. I mean, it’s not like we’re asking them to build a half-decent football program with millions of dollars and only 130 years.

      As for the last sentence, that argument can be used to discredit virtually any cause. The world would certainly be a better place if everyone adopted a lofty cause tomorrow. But dropping this one isn’t going to achieve that anyway. It’s not ideal–but also not wrong–to dedicate yourself to less “important” ends, like preventing CU athletics from controlling a part of our class identity by appropriating a symbol that more closely embodies CC than athletics anyway.

      It’s still a case of the tail wagging the dog–it’s just a disproportionately muscular tail.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Bollinger would, I believe, do more good to make it his top priority to change the foresight-free culture in the Columbia administration than to expand and turn Columbia into whatever the hell the Manhattanville campus is supposed to turn Columbia into. The administration’s argument is effectively: we cannot allow students to use lions other than the primary athletic lions. This is because it may dilute the Columbia athletics brand. We do not want the Columbia athletics brand to be diluted because sports bring in donations and increase alumni loyalty. But they fail to notice that in upholding a policy that is popularly considered imbecilic and unjustifiable (whether or not it actually is) they are alienating the very students who are most likely to donate and be loyal alumni in the future. And there are so many examples of similar things in my time here, mostly involving Columbia taking some action that makes money but alienates students and so diminishes the likelihood of Columbia receiving money from alumni in the future (and then Columbia passes on some of the costs of their policies to students, who pay a higher rate of tuition than any other Ivy… and the rate increases significantly every year). When I arrived at this campus three years ago, I can say for sure that I intended to donate to the university when I graduated. And I’ve had a great time here. But because the Columbia administration has consistently been incomprehensibly bureaucratic and short-sighted I now think that it would be worthless to donate to the university unless I had enough money to dictate exactly how my gift would be used.

    tl;dr: administration doesn’t realize that how much I like or hate them affects how much money I give them in the future. This is a concept that nine-year-olds understand. Fail.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous It’s a great design but sometimes it is just enough. The CC’14 Council should try and focus on more pertinent issues and ensure that their student body has the best years at Columbia. Just admit defeat and move on – make a shirt!! PLEASE!!

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Just wait!

  • just says:

    @just follow the money–athletics probably gets a cut of merch sales

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous no doubt.

  • You're all ignoring the fact says:

    @You're all ignoring the fact that the Columbia athletics lion is rather ugly to begin with. How did we devolve to that grotesque piece of IP.

    1. Disgruntled artist says:

      @Disgruntled artist TRUTH. It hurts me on a regular basis how heinous the athletics rendering of a lion is. It has eyes more far-set than a praying mantis…

  • Greg Abbruzzese CC'91 says:

    @Greg Abbruzzese CC'91 Dear CC ’14 – GREAT shirt! Make it and see if you can make an extra one for me, I’ll wear it (and gladly pay)! What a joke that you actually have to endure this type of admonishment from athletics. Why don’t they (athletics) challenge all of the fraternities that us a lion logo for their parties? Hypocrites!

    In essence, how long will you guys actually be wearing this shirt? A couple of hours at most. Seriously, the athletic department has far more pressing issues to address than this. Since they screwed up the admonishment of the CU Band (which they were initially right to suspend their privlidges, only to succumb to political pressure and allow them to play), they now have to beat up on your class.

    Athletics – Grow Up!

    1. Come on... says:

      @Come on... You didn’t really graduate from CC did you?

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous I sincerely hope I’m wrong about this, but I have a feeling that the powers that be (a board of trustees comprised almost entirely of former financiers and CEOs) have already factored us into the equation. It’s no secret that CU has money on the mind, and it’s pretty good at hanging on to its loot. I suspect the cost/benefit of pissing off future alumni at the expense of unpopular policies is an active concern.

    My fear is this: Not only has the projected loss in alumni donations been deemed to be less than the lost profits resulting from these various policy changes, but their projections are actually correct.

    That might sound like paranoid anti-establishment fearmongering, but it’s not really that far-fetched. It’s a lot like the classic example from any econ class–it’s way cheaper for banks to risk robberies, which cost an average of $4,000, than to pay to beef up security.

    1. Well says:

      @Well You seem to think the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. You have so much to learn about how columbia really works…

  • Well says:

    @Well As an alum and lawyer, I’d be beside myself with anger over the utter tone deafness and ham-fistedness of the administration to the student body if not for the facts that:

    a) How completely in character this seems with my experience.

    b) How hard I’m laughing my ass off at this.

    Congrats Columbia, you just reminded me why I hated you so much by the time I graduated. Look forward to chucking the donation solicitation mailings in the recycling unopened while softly chuckling to myself.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous eww

  • alumna says:

    @alumna Blame M. Diane Murphy! That woman sunk so many of my and my teammates’ (oops “club”mates’, sorry, Diane) dreams.

    I hope she’s reading. Your haircut sucks, Diane.

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