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Irish’ copyrighted

Letter to the Editor | Thursday, March 30, 2006

We have been reluctant to engage in the argument about the Fighting Irish moniker so far, not because we don’t care and don’t feel that it is racist, but because we think this fight is futile. The issue is money. Notre Dame licensed products, which have the phrase “Fighting Irish,” or a picture of the leprechaun, sell more than any other school apparel in the country. Do you think that Notre Dame has any intention of scuttling a million dollar industry because some whiney immigrants feel upset that they aren’t being portrayed in the best light? As two of those immigrants, let us tell you about our run-in with the Notre Dame licensing department, and why it led us to believe the answer is no.

A member of our lab was leaving, so we wanted to make him a T-shirt as a going away present. We designed a “Scientist Leprechaun” that had no resemblance to the Notre Dame Leprechaun and drew him to be wearing a lab coat and goggles.

We sent the image to a local T-shirt printing company to have the T-shirt made. The company owner told us he needed to check with the Notre Dame licensing department. A lady from the department phoned us and flat out said we couldn’t have our image printed, despite the fact that we promised a maximum of three were to be made and none were to be sold. We also tried to point out that Notre Dame’s license covers the ND leprechaun, not every Leprechaun! We called the company owner back and told him that the design was distinct from the one copyrighted by Notre Dame, but he didn’t want to annoy Notre Dame and wouldn’t make our T-shirts.

We have looked up Notre Dame’s licenses. Our leprechaun was not in violation of their copyright, but they are such a behemoth in this area that small local businesses are afraid of upsetting them. We were even more irked to learn that Notre Dame has copyrighted the actual word “Irish” in any context. That means that we, as Irish-born immigrants, cannot make something with the word “Irish.”

So what is our point? Do we resent being forbidden to print a symbol of our country? Yes. Do we worry that we owe Notre Dame’s licensing department money for every time we used the “I’m Irish” chat-up line? Well, we’re not paying them even if we do. Do we yearn to lay out that annoying leprechaun every time we see him bouncing around like an idiot at sporting events? Well, who doesn’t? But we realize that all our frustration with the portrayal of our country won’t make a difference. The images of Leprechauns and fighting Irish are negative stereotypes and by their very definition are racist but Notre Dame makes too much money and, as my experience has shown, is way too protective of their logos to let a few disgruntled students stand in their way. After all, they didn’t let being wrong stand in their way of stopping us making a gift for our friend.

Elizabeth HalpinThomas Durcangraduate studentsMarch 29