Minnesota In-plant Helps University Battle Copyright Infringement
Two years ago, when Minnesota State University, Mankato was fed up with paying out-of-court settlements for copyright and trademark infringements, administration approached Doug Fenske, director of Printing Services to help solve the problem. Now, it’s Fenske’s responsibility to approve every print order submitted by student organizations and departments through a new online form.
“At first [students] thought the form was just to drive business to me,” Fenske says. “But it’s not, it’s to protect them.”
Last fall, a student organization at Minnesota State designed shirts featuring the Survivor logo, but altered it to include their organization’s name. The altered logo even included the well-known television show’s motto, “Outwit, Outplay, Outlast.”
“You could tell from 100 feet away that it was the Survivor logo,” Fenske laughs.
However, had the group gone through the online form, the design never would have gotten that far.
“Nobody wakes up in the morning and does things with bad intentions, they just don’t know,” he says. “The Internet has made this [infringement]problem worse. People think everything on the Internet is free.”
Not only do Fenske and his team examine every order that comes through the online form, they go through every order purchased with school purchasing cards.
“We’re going a long ways to try and get a handle on the brand so that people don’t infringe on other companies’ trademarks,” he says.
The school will only support orders placed through Printing Services or the list of approved, licensed vendors, which is made available online. Every order placed through a licensed vendor goes through the school’s trademark system. Fenske admits that outside printers aren’t necessarily looking out for copyright infringement; they think the people sending the files are. That’s why education is key.
Graphic standards for the most commonly used logos and symbols, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and university branding, are provided to, and readily available for, all campus organizations and departments.
“The chances of getting caught are probably slim, but when you do, the fines are terrible,” Fenske warns. “Part of the educational system is to teach students to do things correctly.”
But Fenske is humble, admitting that he too makes mistakes. “I miss stuff too. I sent out a piece where I didn’t catch a violation of the Facebook logo and a promotional products distributer sent it back.”
Although Fenske explains that almost everything that comes through his shop is either black or white when it comes to infringement, if he isn’t absolutely sure, he sends it to the corporate attorney to avoid legal action.
The online form has increased the number of orders placed through Minnesota State University Printing Services; Fenske’s team saw a 25 percent rise in orders in 2014 because of it.
Fenske says that it has been a great learning experience. “Maybe this can be a springboard for other schools to get on board to try and curtail this problem, because it is a slippery slope and there is a lot of [infringement] going on out there,” he says.