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Let's say that I am making a forum utility to discuss topics of television ... ESPN, CSPAN, CBS, etc.

If the channel is called ESPN and the forum is made specifically to discuss what is on that specific channel then would it be legal to place an ESPN logo in the title of the forum?

If not, what would be a possible workaround?

  • It's probably legal. You can use a trademark when discussing the product or service sold using that trademark. What you can't do is confuse people into thinking that your product or service is actually the product or service associated with the trademark. That is, if you have a channel called ESPN because its subject is ESPN, that's probably okay, but you can't let people think that the ESPN channel is produced by ESPN. I don't think copyright is implicated in this. – phoog Mar 15 '16 at 18:11
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You should assume that the logo in question is a registered trademark. This, for example, indicates that the baseball plus diamond with "ESPN" is "live". Some former trademarks like this are "dead" (abandoned). That means those are federally registered, and they are entitled to use the ® symbol. But, even without registration, there is "common law trademarking" notated ™. There is a risk that you would be sued for infringement. The main question is whether there is confusingly similarity between your logo and theirs. One way to negate that risk is to request permission to use the trademark from the owner (probably Disney). There is also a concept of "fair use", which you could use in court to defend yourself. There is a concept of nominative use, discussed at scholarly brevity in this article, and one of the cases that the concept rests on is Brother Records v. Jardine. A crucial feature is that under such possibly-permitted usage, you would use (future) plaintiff's logo to describe their product. (This concept exists in the US 9th Circuit). There is also jurisdictionally-broader generic fair use, described here, which is useful in giving examples of cases where "fair use" was found versus was not found. One of the latter cases is Corp. of Gonzaga Univiversity v. Pendleton Enterprises, LLC where (according to inta.org) the infringement "did not constitute nominative fair use because there were numerous ways in which the radio station could have entertained its Gonzaga fans without infringing plaintiff’s trademark".

You should bear in mind that sports logos are marketable objects, and hundreds of millions of dollars can be made by licensing the right to use the logo.

At a minimum, you should seek the expert opinion of an IP attorney, who could say e.g. "It is virtually guaranteed that you will get sued" vs. "I can't imagine that they would sue you", or something in between.

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