I spent the last few months researching a long time concern of mine for a friend and acquaintance I had met in college that experienced an injustice right before graduating. While researching what really happened to him, I found some very interesting details, had he and his team had known, might have changed their last experience at CSU San Marcos for the better and made their outlook on life a little more positive.
I had submitted the article to my editor-in-chief at OsideNews.com and sadly ran into a time-frame where he was too sick to fact check and publish fast enough for the article to make real news. Once I had let the cat out of the bag, legal actions were taken to alleviate the situation and stop the injustice.
So, enclosed is my original article:
Headline: A loss for the community
Byline: Theft of intellectual property creates lack in economic progress
By: Anne S. Hall
Southern California and San Diego County residents, Mario Clay, Brendan Bass and Brandon Baker were featured in California State University San Marcos’ Cougar Chronicle at the end of spring semester 2013 for completing an E-commerce business project that would help community sales for both businesses and students attending any college campus.
This web service was called, “Cougar List,” as their school mascot is the cougar. I personally wrote the features article as some of these gentlemen are fellow Veterans whom I had met through the campus Veterans Center and became aware of the web page as they were promoting the url to Veterans on campus.
After writing the article, I had further helped these gentlemen by creating small flyers to promote the web site on campus public announcement boards at CSUSM. Upon our return to campus the following fall semester we were, once again, in the Veterans Center while a number of students came in announcing that students were tearing down the Cougar List flyers all over campus and replacing them with another that promoted a web site with a service to help allow students resell their textbooks titled, “books4csusm.”
“One of my colleagues showed me an advertisement that had been spread all over campus. they had suggested I was copied. After reviewing books4csusm’s website and offerings, I saw that the website resembled mine,” said Mr. Clay, a business major at the time .
The web site appeared as though it was owned and operated by CSUSM. Thus, Clay chose not to challenge the action and assumed that his teams hard work had been taken without credit by the campus, as student projects created on campus can be considered property of the University. With graduation approaching, they chose not to take further action.
“I was never contacted by the university,” said Mario Clay, and when asking Brendan Bass the same question he replied with, “Not to our recollection.”
“When direct quotes were taken, ‘By students for students,’ the quote along with the school’s site creation did not seem coincidental. Someone with more technical resources used our idea to launch this site,” said Bass, another business major and partner in the development of the website.
“I’m not shocked that this happened, and it was upsetting. Because I had to focus on graduating, I did not feel that I had the time and resources to fight this,” said Clay.
The whole purpose of this website, originally, Cougar List, was to allow students easy access to networking to sell books and other items on a social media platform being developed by Clay, Bass and Baker through their own web design and development. They took the concept of CraigsList and social medial networks like Facebook to reconsider ideas of how to help their peers as the assignment for the project, issued by Professor He of Cal State San Marcos, was to create prototype websites. As the group considered, “What would be a good service for students,” Cougar List evolved.
“After our initial group idea was presented, students realized potential, not only in our idea but it’s income potential,” said Bass.
“There was a cost to running the website, and we discontinued once the project was graded because our idea had already been taken,” said Clay.
Books4csusm mirrored the work presented on Cougar List: from the main page layout, graphic art, to the text and what the current web site had to offer without the groups developmental ideas for personalizing the page for users.
“I felt that there was a potential for this sort of thing to happen because we had to reveal everything about our project to make the grade, of course, but the consequence is that if you have a great idea anyone can take it before you’re finished working on it,” said Clay.
“I was upset, yet inspired that our team’s creativity was being imitated by someone who obviously lacked the talent,” said Bass.
Unfortunately, Brandon Baker could not be reached in order to gain his statement about this event.
Books4csusm was not created by California State University San Marcos. When notifying the web administrators about the article, I received no response. There was no origination date of the website posted on the page, or copyright statements. Observing the site, I was led to a Facebook page titled, “books4csusm.com.” This Facebook page was linked to a closed group that was created in 2013, as the Facebook business page for books4csusm.com was also created in 2013. The name of the closed group was called “CSUSM students!!!! sell your books through Facebook.”
The administrators were listed as Jon Lighthill and Dana Hall, former student of CSUSM and an intimate couple. Both the Facebook page, books4csusm.com and the website books4csusm.com showed images from California State University San Marcos, use of the campus logo, photos taken by the campus communications department staff and images of students on campus.
The books4csusm website was plain and had very little activity since its promotion in 2013. Because the creators hesitated to respond to my inquiries, I contacted Cathy Baur, the head of CSUSM’s Communications Department to inquire about the creation of both the website and the Facebook pages. Upon notification of its existence, Mrs. Baur informed me that the school was unaware of the websites existence.
“Our office has contacted them and advised them to stop. They are not authorized and there is a perception of an affiliation with the University that does not exist,” stated Mrs. Baur.
I was then forwarded a letter directed to Mr. Lighthill stating, “The name “California State University” and the names and abbreviations of all of the CSU campuses are the property of the state of California and your use of this name is illegal. (see, California Education Code Section 89005.5). The seal, logo and spirit logo of the California State University University San Marcos is likewise protected property of the State and your use is unauthorized.”
Shortly after, the books4csusm web site took down all images affiliated with the college and quoted a statement on the main page stating that the website has no affiliation with the University, but the url continues to operate even though CSUSM exists in its name and email address.
The website appears to presently remain in operation despite the notification of grievance from both the school and the originators of the idea. The creators have declined to respond to any of my questioning regarding the creation of the website and the idea behind its development.
The Cougar List was intended to be a hub for forums, blogs, chat, and eventually save music playlists, store favorites for book titles and movies and become a regularly used web page for students anywhere. As I said in my first article, “All of North County has the potential of benefiting from this website. Businesses outside of the school that focus sales towards student demographics can advertise and promote their companies. The main focus from the creators of the Cougar List is to remain open to promoting student endeavors and providing a pleasant user experience.”
The original URL for the web site was www.cougarlist.ning.com. You can visit the original features article at http://csusmchronicle.com/home/2013/05/cougar-list-students-can-sell-textbooks-through-csusms-own-craigslist.html
Though the web site for Cougar List was taken down, the originators have kept all of their work for the development of the original project from 2013. Whether further action is going to be taken against the originators of books4csusm.com by the alumni or the school remains in question.
Since submitting this article, the creators of books4csusm.com has left the URL entirely blank. The URL still exists but opens up to a blank page (at least from as far as I can see).
Another detail that stood out for this case is that obtaining personal information for the books4csusm web page was not necessarily difficult. I found that in a day on the internet because all the information was made public on Facebook as the security settings to the creators accounts were not set to private. What did take the longest amount of time was reaching out to the University’s Communications Department as we spent weeks playing phone tag so that I could get a statement about the situation on the Universities behalf as they had appeared to be the creators of the web site and supporters for the Facebook page. Once this was confirmed to be negative information everything else happened very quickly.