University officials have asked the owner of a web page that denounces Isla Vista and UCSB as a “twisted world” to drop the letters “UCSB” from his web site address.
The website, www.thedarksideofucsb.com, was launched last fall by James Baron, the father of a former UCSB student. The site, which was recently redesigned and expanded, serves as a forum for students who believe UCSB is overrun by vice and lacks an administration that takes seriously complaints regarding alcohol abuse, drug abuse and violence. Margaret Clow, campus policy and records management coordinator, said UCSB has recently taken issue with the use of its trademark name — which is property of the state — because its use could lead the site’s viewers to believe “The Dark Side of UCSB” is officially sponsored by the university.
Clow said she notified Baron that the site was in violation of Section 92000 of the Education Code of the State of California.
“We have asked him to stop using it and he’s continuing to use it,” Clow said. “Now we’re determining whether we’re going to do anything about it from here.”
Baron said he does not believe he is in violation of the trademark law and that the university’s objection is likely “content-driven,” due to unfavorable commentary about the university on the site.
“We state very clearly on every page that we aren’t a UCSB site,” he said. “They basically threatened us with criminal prosecution and civil prosecution. They demanded we stop using ‘UCSB’ in our meta tags, URL and the use of the initials in any way, which is a clear violation of free speech.”
Clow said Baron is not being singled out, and that the university simply wants to avoid misleading the public.
“The university is not trying to shut the site down,” Clow said. “We believe that Mr. Baron has freedom to express his views. We only asked him to take the ‘UCSB’ name out of the address. We don’t want the public misled. If you did a search on UCSB, his site would pop up, since UCSB’s name appears. Our concern is people will believe they are coming to a UCSB site. If they scroll down to the bottom, they’ll see the disclaimer — but if they don’t, they may think it’s a university website.”
Baron said UCSB is using its legal trademark to silence public discontent.
“This completely explains why there are no sites that have negative comments about the university,” he said. “They intimidate people that use the initials ‘UCSB’ in any form. The university also threatened our website provider for hosting our site.”
Baron said there was a precedent for his actions, citing large companies who lost similar lawsuits.
“All those companies — like Starbucks or the Carlyle Group — they lost in court,” Baron said. “Type, ‘Starbucks sucks’ and websites will come up. But the university still thinks they can get away with it.”
Clow said some individuals are authorized to use UCSB’s name. Baron, however, would not likely be one of them, she said.
“In the last year, we granted 11 licenses for use of the university name,” Clow said. “We are restricted as to who we can grant that license to. His site is not within the criteria for permitted use.”
Baron, however, said he is confident the UC Regents will grant his website permission to continue using “UCSB” in its URL.
“We wrote a letter to the UC Regents and haven’t heard back yet,” he said. “And I expect to hear a positive response from the Regents – not from the pinheads that run the administration at UCSB.”
Clow said if the university’s lawyers reach a consensus that “The Dark Side of UCSB” is indeed in violation, despite its disclaimers, she is uncertain if any further action will be taken.
“The question now is: Would it be productive for the university to pursue this or not?” she said.
Baron said he finds it unlikely that UCSB will take any legal action against his site, but he would not be too concerned if it did.
“If they sue us, we’ll immediately go UC system-wide and go national,” he said. “We’ll go to court. It’s national free publicity. But can you imagine — arresting a poor, little old man for the violation of trademark rights?”
Baron has recently made adjustments to his site in order to expand it and to appease criticism. Presently, the photographs no longer depict individuals unaffiliated with UCSB. The drug use imagery and alleged domestic violence victim pictures of the earlier website have been replaced by scenic photos of Isla Vista and an empty Parrot Bay rum bottle on its streets.
“We changed the pictures on the website because people thought it was unfair to show a kid passed out drunk that wasn’t in I.V., which I think is stupid,” Baron said. “It would take about 30 seconds to find a kid like that on a Friday night in I.V.”
Baron said his team at “The Dark Side of UCSB” is also expanding and optimistic.
“We want to go broader,” he said. “We’re getting a film crew together right now. We’re going to offer money to students who want to have positive parties: meaning no drugs, booze or violence. We’re going to try to get Associated Students to cough up some money, too.”