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I am considering writing some stories, which in part revolve around a fictional university. In that regard, I would like to set up a website for the university, complete with course catalogue and all the bells and whistles, maybe even allow fans to enroll for some weird courses inspirred by the stories. The website will clearly state that this is NOT a real university, but I have no idea where my legal limits are in this regard? I understand that there are both national and especially international variations on the rules, but what would I legally be able to do, considering that "online" means "everywhere/global"?

Although it differs from place to place, I assume that there are some common rules about what I can include if I decide to start, for example, dingdonguniversity.com and build a purely (and openly) fictional university. What limitations are there to the use of the term "university" in a url and name, if it is clearly stated that the project is not a real and/or accredited university?

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  • I am tempted to say that this is off-topic: this site is for "real academia". I wonder if I am misunderstanding? – Pete L. Clark Apr 27 '16 at 17:07
  • Come to think of it, this may or may not be more a legal matter. I will go check if a legal SE is a more appropriate place for it. If this is closed on that ground, I will fully understand. – Henry Stone Apr 27 '16 at 17:08
  • Yes, it seems to me that the "IRL" issues here pertain to the law, not to academia. – Pete L. Clark Apr 27 '16 at 17:16
  • I hear that burger king is no real king either... – Per Alexandersson Apr 27 '16 at 17:17
  • I have asked the question on the law SE. I have no idea how to close a question, but I will not object if a moderator chooses to do so. I am still open to answers from in here, though, should anyone have insight. – Henry Stone Apr 27 '16 at 17:20
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In the US, as long as you don't infringe someone's trademark with the name, there are no restrictions I can think of, but don't let my lack of creativity give you full license to commit fraud. If you start giving away degrees or taking people's money, then you might get into trouble, but as long as you're just making a website with an untrademarked name, there should be no restrictions.

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Are you charging people money for enrolling in these odd courses? Are you claiming to grant degrees or certificates or claiming accreditation?
If "no" to both you're in a much better position.

Do you have some clear disclosure somewhere that it's fictional? Your last clause indicates yes, and this will help reduce the criticism you fear.

Check out Monsters University for a nice example of how far you can go; the site supports Pixar's 2013 film of the same title, also revolving around a fictional story. That university also has some courses that would be weird at most present-day accredited universities.

Also check out this or that Hogwarts, where you can enroll in online courses from the Harry Potter fictional universe.

You won't be able to get a .edu domain because the requirements for registration in .edu include being an institutionally accredited US-affiliated postsecondary institution.

Edit in response to comment: A bookstore seems fine if you actually ship the products you sell. That's probably how your site would get classified overall, as an engaging e-commerce site (or alternatively, as entertainment).

  • Clear disclosure: Yes. Claim accreditation: No (well, maybe some clearly not real-world accreditation, for show, like "Interplanetary Council Approved" or something). Charging money for enrolling in classes: Maybe, although stating clerly that this is not for a real-world university degree. Also, a bookstore. In many ways, the MU website is like what I'm thinking, except with magic, superheroes and future tech. I do like the idea of actual enrollment, but still, all clearly labeled "not real-world applocable". And I'm not going for an .edu, that would defeat the "not real" clause. – Henry Stone Apr 27 '16 at 18:05
  • Just checked out the Hogwarts links. How is that even allowed?? They do not seem sanctioned by Rowling or her Undead Lawyer Army.. Are they?? – Henry Stone May 4 '16 at 20:58

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