michael-marsh-U0dBV_QeiYk-unsplashFor those fortunate enough to go to college (or unfortunate, depending on your reaction to that first student loan bill) picking the institution to attend is a big and thrilling step in your journey into adulthood. For many it’s the first time they’ll be living independently of their parents, sometimes hundreds or even thousands of miles away from home. And a big part of choosing a school is the campus tour: your opportunity to get a feel for the feel, the environs of your potential home for the next four(ish) years. 

As you can imagine, COVID-19 has put the campus tour on the shelf as both travel and large gatherings are big no-no’s in this new normal. But, thanks to some enterprising individuals, the campus tour has a new life as a virtual exercise. That’s undoubtedly a good thing, right? Some schools would beg to differ, and are looking to shut the whole thing down on trademark grounds, of all things. 

From Techdirt comes the story of LiveCampusTours, a business that works with undergraduates at colleges and universities to provide online tours of 175 campuses across the nation for prospective applicants. While that would seem laudatory to most individuals, those running institutions of higher learning aren’t most people, as a dozen schools have issued cease-and-desists to LiveCampusTours claiming that the company is violating their trademarks. 

The argument presented by these schools is that by listing their names on the website, they are creating the implication of official sanction or endorsement by the schools themselves for these virtual tours, and thus the site is violating their marks. There is of course the matter of competition perhaps motivating the actions; schools have their own tours, in which they highlight what they choose while minimizing any negatives. With an unaffiliated tour, guides can give potential undergrads the unvarnished truth about a school good and bad, and of course that simply cannot stand.

The dozen schools aren’t wrong in stating that they have marks on their university names, but how else is LiveCampusTours or anyone else meant to refer to them in a descriptive manner? Can we only hint at the institution, letting others guess as to which school in particular we’re referencing? 

On a more salient point, it doesn’t make much sense for a school to be shutting down any tours if they’re hoping to avoid a dip in registration and enrollment. On its face the actions taken by these schools seem the sort of reflexive trademark protectionism that so many other big entities undertake, failing to realize that they’re doing themselves more harm than good in shutting down their own fans. Unless your school is so unappealing that you’re looking for applications sight unseen, why not let any and all tours take place, particularly from people who might have more sway in convincing their peers of how great the experience is? I can’t say I understand it, but maybe I just need another degree.

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