Arizona State University (ASU) has addressed concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic by requiring students to wear face masks and practice social distancing. These rules apply both on campus and off campus. Thus, ASU responded aggressively to an Instagram account promoting the opposite approach.
The Arizona Board of Regents has sued Facebook (the owner of Instagram) and the owner of an Instagram account named “asu_covid.parties” in a federal court in Arizona. The lawsuit alleges claims related to misusing ASU’s trademarks and spreading dangerous misinformation about the pandemic. The unknown owner of the account has called the pandemic a hoax and claims to be “throwing huge parties at ASU.” While no evidence suggests that these parties have actually occurred, many current and former members of the ASU community have left hostile comments on its posts. One ASU alumnus threatened to stop donating to the university because he assumed that the account was affiliated with it.
The lawsuit cites this confusion, among other evidence, in arguing that the account has misused ASU’s trademarks and trade dress (school colors). Before filing the lawsuit, ASU asked Instagram to remove or modify the account. Instagram refused because it felt that people would not assume that the account was affiliated with ASU. It viewed the use of ASU’s trademarks as a commentary on ASU’s services.
ASU asserts that the account violates the COVID-19 guidelines imposed by Facebook and Instagram. It also argues that the account disrupts university operations and interferes with the health of the ASU community by spreading misinformation about the coronavirus. An investigation allegedly revealed evidence that the account may be based in Russia, although the lawsuit does not substantiate this claim. ASU has asked the court to shut down the account and prevent it from using ASU’s trademarks. It also seeks monetary damages, including any profits that stem from the alleged trademark infringement and false advertising by the account owner.
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