Big Ten Conference sues operator of college-themed website

Andrew Thomason Feb. 11, 2015, 10:16am

The nation’s oldest collegiate sports conference is calling foul on an online college lifestyle business.

The Big Ten Conference Inc. filed a lawsuit in Chicago’s federal court earlier in the month against Steve Gazibara, claiming his web-based business, Big10Tens, violates the conference’s various federal trademarks.

Gazibara in 2012 registered the domain, according to the Feb. 3 complaint. The website and associated social media accounts appear to have been taken down since.

The suit alleges Gazibara's site is specifically designed to make it appear as if they are connected to the Big Ten Conference and therefore endorsed by the conference.

He is using “a logo displaying the mark ‘Big10Tens’ and the slogan ‘In Your Conference Out of Your League,’which is a direct reference to and implies affiliation with or sponsorship by the Conference,” the conference asserts.

The complaint also highlights a picture of the website’s “About” page that states the site is “an entertainment website focused on the Big Ten Conference.”

Beyond the alleged attempt to make it appear as if Big10Tens is in some way affiliated with the sports conference, the suit contends the site promotes aspects of college social life universities and associated organizations try to combat, like binge drinking and drug use.

For instance, the suit includes screen captures from Gazibara's site that has links like “I’m not sure, I blacked out. (30 photos)” and “Girls gettin’ wild for the weekend (26 photos).”

In addition to articles and photo galleries, the site sells Big10Tens branded merchandise like t-shirts and sweaters. On top of the site, the suit alleges Gazibara operates social media profiles of Big10Tens on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“Defendants have conjured up a substantial fan base and following with over 79,000 followers on Twitter, 15,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook and 19,000 followers on Instagram,” the suit states.

The conference claims Gazibara has ignored several letters to demanding he stop using their trademark, but it appears all of Big10Tens' web presence has been suspended as visits to the URLs listed in the suit produced “page not found” errors.

The conference holds several trademarks related to its brand that it claims Gazibara is violating. What’s more, the conference claims, Gazibara is violating the Lanham Act by using the phrase “The Big Ten” in the metadata for Metadata is used by search engines to catalog and recommend websites to users.

The conference also claims Gazibara is cybersquatting on the URL, an act illegal under the Lanham Act.

In its suit, the conference is asking that the court issue preliminary and permanent injunctions to prevent Gazibara from using its current name and logos on the internet and on its branded merchandise.

It is also wants Gazibara to destroy all physical goods that contain the alleged trademark infringement and pay them all profits from the sale of Big10Tens merchandise and the operation of his site, as well as its social media pages.

Attorneys Richard M. Assmus, Andrew S. Rosenman and Kristine M. Young of the Chicago-based law firm Mayer Brown LLP are representing the conference in the case.

Court records show a status hearing has been set for April 1 before U.S. District Judge Sara Ellis.

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