Use of UCSD moniker broke rules so Web site must be shut down

    The Web site made it seem so tragic.

    Edgar Quintana/Guardian

    “”UCSDuncensored.com is currently shut down as of Oct. 9, 2003,”” it proclaimed, a lamentable little blurb in the midst of empty, white Web site space that used to be filled with messages from hundreds of Tritons enjoying a community-minded online haven.

    The site linked readers to an officious letter from Director of Student Policies and Judicial Affairs Nicholas S. Aguilar, which essentially said that the Web site would be shut down due to illegal usage of the university’s name and failure to comply with a previous warning. This incidentally could also lead to disciplinary action against the site’s creators. Talk about a classic case of students being owned by “”the system,”” eh? You almost can’t help but cry “”outrage!””

    Almost.

    True, the Web site, co-created by students Joe Mahavuthivanij and Boaz Gurdin, was a good one. And true, it does look awfully suspicious that, according to Mahavuthivanij, “”the school had been planning to release a forum very similar to UCSDuncensored.com.”” (Mahavuthivanij is concerned that Aguilar’s directive may have stemmed from the university’s desire to secure dominance over a potential user base. It’s possible.) And true, prohibiting unauthorized usage of the name “”University of California”” does, as Gurdin remarked, sound slightly like disenfranchisement.

    Nevertheless, the code still stands: just as Nike owns the Swoosh and McDonald’s owns the Golden Arches, the state owns the name “”University of California.”” Without explicit permission granted, neither the name nor its abbreviation may be used in a manner that would indicate an endorsement by the university or affiliation to any other establishment ‹ say, for example, to a Web site hosting an “”uncensored”” access to the school.

    As the university owns the name, the Board of Regents also has the right to decide how they’d like to present the UC name ‹ their trademark ‹ to the public. The UC system represents hundreds of thousands of students nationwide, and it would do these students a severe disservice to allow any entirely uncensored content to be endorsed by the university. It’s not unreasonable, then, to ask that webmasters obtain written permission from the Regents before associating the Uniersity of California’s name with whatever they wish.

    In September 2002, for example, UCSD’s Che´ Cafe´ Collective, whose Web site BURN! publishes works written by activist groups, was ordered to remove a link to the Web site of an alleged terrorist organization. The Ché, naturally, was up in arms over the “”censorship,”” but no one was prohibiting any kind of right to free speech. The Regents simply didn’t want to be affiliated with a terrorist organization ‹ which is entirely reasonable.

    In this case, the action is even more justifiable. No one is suggesting that UCSDuncensored be removed from the Internet forever, but simply that its name be changed to comply with the code ‹ which really shouldn’t be that hard. According to Mahavuthivanij, it wouldn’t be at all difficult to redirect traffic from the current UCSDuncensored.com address.

    Currently no such permission is granted, but alternate means of advertising a new address are certainly available. That’s definitely not the optimal solution for the Web site’s creators, but the University of California is under no obligation to make life easier for those who failed to comply with its code.

    According to Gurdin, he is trying to communicate with the university regarding licensing. The Web site’s creators’ first choice, of course, would be to continue to keep the name, in which they’ve invested a significant amount of time, effort and money. That may not be possible, but the university’s actions are in no way preventing the Web site from being fully functional and (albeit christened differently) virtually unchanged, with regard to content. Gurdin and Mahavuthivanij plan to reopen their online forum, in one form or another, in the near future.

    Furthermore, even the webmasters have to admit the shutdown was no less than fair. Gurdin himself said he believes Aguilar has exercised the law in a professional manner.

    Ultimately, the issue becomes one of convenience. It may not be easy for UCSDuncensored to change its name or address, but it’s certainly not an unfair request. The University of California has not only the right, but also the responsibility to determine how it is associated with various organizations to most fairly represent all students. Shutting down UCSDuncensored sets an important precedent: It states that not just any content, no matter how beneficial (or, on the flip side, no matter how obscene or incorrect), can be illegally affiliated with the University of California, and thus defame the university’s character.

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