After releasing a merch collection to celebrate convocation this June, moderators of the “uoft memes for true ?lue teens” Facebook group moved their merch website offline after receiving a trademark infringement notice from U of T and Shopify.
The specific trademark that U of T cited in its copyright infringement notice protects the usage of “University of Toronto” without authorization on items such as clothing and textile goods. The university deemed 13 merch items as infringing on the trademark.
Group moderator Katie Kwang explained the decision to shut down the merch store after receiving the infringement notice, noting that the moderators are “broke and can’t afford legal fees” to contest the notice.
Celebrating 2020 graduation, donating to BIPOC charities
The Facebook group, whose membership exceeds 17,000, conjured up the idea for merch after a campaign to give the graduating class of 2020 commemorative spoons gained popularity in the group. Kwang looked into the logistics of procuring spoons for graduates and, in the process, determined shirts were more feasible.
The designs of the shirts, which were conceived by the moderators of the group, included pins and bags showing Robarts library as a turkey, brown food truck t-shirts and mugs, and ?oundless crewnecks.
“I figured it would be a nice gesture for the graduating class,” Kwang wrote to The Varsity. “With an online convocation all sense of class spirit must be obliterated so it would be nice to give em something to rally around… a tangible reminder of the conclusion of their undergrad.”
The profits of the merch were set to be donated to four Black, Indigenous, and people of colour charities: Black Lives Matter Canada, Black Legal Action Centre, Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, and No One is Illegal.
Along with their merch announcement, the moderators of “uoft memes for true ?lue teens” released a Google Doc that provides resources for members to inform themselves on COVID-19 and race, policing, and discussing the Black Lives Matter movement with elders.
U of T’s trademark policy
When asked if they considered the charities when delivering the trademark infringement notice, a U of T spokesperson told The Varsity that “while we asked the seller in this case to discontinue sales of specific merchandise (that violated policy and used marks without permission), we did not ask the seller to cease operations” and that the revenue generated from U of T merchandise is frequently invested into funds such as the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education’s Equity Ideas Fund.
The university also emphasized that trademark infringement notices are common. “In any given year, our Trademark Licensing Office reaches out to ten to 20 merchandisers requesting that they adhere to this policy,” a U of T spokesperson commented.