SRJC’s IT department rejects student-made website

Claudia Aceves, Staff Writer

Claiming alleged trademark infringement, the Santa Rosa Junior College’s Information Technology (IT) department asked a student to change the domain name of his website, where he posted a program to help students visually organize their class schedules.

Ben Hough, 19, knowledgeable in coding, first came up with a program he could use to help him organize his class schedule online to better visualize his workflow.

Last summer, Hough presented his program to IT Director Scott Conrad and asked if he would be interested in using his code.

However, because there were other project priorities lined up, like updating the Student Information System (SIS) to meet state requirements, Conrad said IT was unable to integrate the scheduler in SIS.

“For a while I had a code that only worked for me and I decided to turn it into a website so it could be more accessible,” Hough said.

Recently, when one of Hough’s instructors shared the scheduler link, www.srjcscheduler.com, in a districtwide email promoting Hough’s work, IT noticed the new website’s URL included the SRJC name but did not immediately identify itself as an unofficial SRJC website. 

Although Conrad didn’t discourage Hough from using the site, he asked that Hough change the domain name to something that doesn’t directly associate the school to the website to avoid trademark violation issues.

“[Conrad] says it’s up to me if I want to change it, but that if he gets any complaints he’ll talk to the board and take action,” Hough said.

However, SRJC instructor Bill Stone did a trademark search and learned that the name SRJC is not actually trademarked.

Conrad said the college name is protected under Ed Code 72000.4, which states that no one can use the college name, or any abbreviation of it, without permission.

Conrad suggested to Hough a link to create a pop-up disclaimer when people enter the website. As of Nov 6, Hough added a small font disclaimer reading “Not an official SRJC website” underneath the site’s title.

Because the disclaimer doesn’t appear on mobile versions of the website, Hough plans to add a pop-up.

“This is similar to what we do when you click on a non-SRJC link today. When you click a Facebook link on our site, a jump page comes up and tells you that you are leaving the SRJC site,” Conrad said. “This way users are clear when they are on an SRJC-supported site or not.”

If there are technical issues within the scheduling site, IT wants to make sure schedule users understand they are not on an official SRJC website and should ask the site creator instead of SRJC in case of malfunctions.

“Our only concern is that his program be clearly labeled as not part of the SRJC, since we have no control over it,” Conrad said.

Although no legal action has been considered against Hough, who has not changed the URL of the website, Conrad said if SRJC receives any complaints it will defer to legal counsel to determine whether legal action should be taken.

“I don’t plan on changing the domain name,” Hough said. “The whole point of the disclaimer is so that there is no confusion, so I don’t see why the domain should have to be changed.”

Conrad said SRJC programmers are currently working on a similar scheduling tool to incorporate in SIS within the student portal for fall 2015.

“There has been a plan for over a year to add a visual schedule display similar to the output of the student program, but this has been delayed due to the large number of changes that have been mandated by the state legislature for the Student Success Initiative,” Conrad said.

Incidentally, Hough said that during the July conversation Conrad did not mention a similar program in the works, but rather the possibility of incorporating an interactive schedule in SIS once prioritized projects are fulfilled.

“It was meant to make things easier for students,” Hough said. “I would think they would want to use it to help.”