Trump reelection committee demands artist rescind political cartoon, asserting that drawing a “MAGA hat” is a trademark violation

May 27, 2020 • 12:45 pm

As reported by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF; who knew?), as well as an account on The Daily Kos by cartoonist Nick Anderson, the organization Donald Trump For President, Inc. has taken legal exception to this cartoon that Anderson posted on Redbubble, with the title “The Trump Cult”. It’s a pretty good political cartoon.


The cartoonist was then informed by Redbubble that they removed the cartoon after a complaint by the Trump organization 

This is not a trademark infringement, but the use of the “MAGA hat” in a political cartoon as a symbol of Trump.

The artist, of course, is disputing it (alternative #3). As he says at TDK:

“I can only surmise that the Trump campaign is suggesting that the MAGA hats are a Trademark violation. This, of course, is absurd. The First Amendment and Supreme Court case law clearly protects Trademark and/or Copyright “infringements” if the material in question is being satirized.”

I wasn’t aware that parody allows “fair use” of material from other people, but I am enlightened. And it’s pretty sleazy that the Trump organization, which surely knows this, is trying to intimidate Redbubble and the cartoonist to take down a parody. That’s censorship, and it’s petty. Since when have Presidents been immune to parody.

At any rate, Redbubble hadn’t responded to Anderson’s request for reinstatement six days after that request (by May 24).

h/t: Ken

68 thoughts on “Trump reelection committee demands artist rescind political cartoon, asserting that drawing a “MAGA hat” is a trademark violation

  1. And yet they can’t get twitter to take down his conspiracy nonsense about the guy on MSNBC. Such garbage.

    1. Where have these guys been the last few years? I can show them literally hundreds of anti-Trump cartoons that include MAGA hats from my collection, and I’ve no doubt there are hundreds more. Methinks they’re a wee bit sensitive because it highlights the disinfectant injection. They know that moment was a wee bit too much even for some in the Trump Cult.

  2. I am not surprised by the tacticp; he is also threatening the social media sites with regulation because Twitter have provided a fact check link on a tweet, so anything that goes against his views is likely to be a target.

    1. But Twitter doing that is rather dubious. There are vast numbers of Tweets that are misleading. So they are going to pick and choose which to add links to, and they’ll do that according to their own biases.

      I actually do think that social-media companies with dominant market share should indeed be regulated, regulated for neutrality.

      1. But Twitter doing that is rather dubious I disagree. It isn’t as though they took the tweet down or changed it in any way, just added a blue link to an alternative source of incormation. I believe he is also accusing them of trampling his first amendment rights but they don’t owe him a platform in the first place and he is perfectly free to express whatever lunacy occurs to him, it isn’t as though he is short of outlets for his wisdom.

        1. But more generally, Twitter is not just a private company, it has dominant market share and is now part of the infrastructure of society.

          If they start acting in this sort of “editorialising” way then that could be a problem if they do it in a biased way.

          It’s not about whether one approves of this particular addition to Trump’s Tweet, it’s the principle of whether Twitter should do that, and if it does do that, then what are the rules about when and to whom? “When and if we feel like it” is a dubious answer.

          1. I don’t think Twitter did anything except to identify parts of the tweet that may not be factual and had been shown to be false through a fact checker. It urges readers to check that fact. I don’t see how fact checking is biased especially since it’s done consistently. There are arguments I can buy about bias with twitter when a human decides who to apply their rules to. Conservatives suggest they are targeted and they may be correct but atheists have experienced bias as well.

            1. I may be out of date here. I hadn’t heard of them adding a fact check to a Tweet before, and was under the impression that doing so is rather unusual?

              [Again, I’m not suggesting that Trump’s Tweet didn’t deserve it, I’m suggesting that so do myriad other Tweets. If, say, a NY Times journalist Tweets that sex is a social construction and is not binary, would Twitter add a link to a fact check saying this is wrong?]

              1. Twitter has some very specific rules (recently added?) about misinformation and voting. These are why the tweet was labelled not just because it was false.

      2. We can just agree that all claims from Presidents, officials, and persons in positions of public trust and confidence should all be similarly open to fact checking.

        1. Perhaps, but that’s a lot of people, so Twitter would need an army of fact checkers. And would you also include people running for office?

      3. Twitter has a set of terms of service which you must agree to if you want to use it. Trump’s tweets have violated those terms on many occasions and his account should have been suspended by now. But, of course, Twitter is a private company and Trump is a major source of revenue. Many people are saying of the latest action “it’s about bloody time”.

        Just because Twitter is very popular doesn’t alter the fact that it is not a branch of government. If you want it to abide by rules that apply to the US government, nationalise it.

  3. It’s too bad the creator of the cartoon wouldn’t give your readers the opportunity to redistribute, that way we could make sure it never disappears

    1. Link to the article that PCC(E) has linked, which is what I did.

      Also, as it happens, the copyright of the image has been violated technically since PCC(E) uploaded it to his own WordPress account in order to embed it in the article.

  4. I don’t think the campaign has a leg to stand on. Looks like satire to me. Does show that copyright law is broken; they should have to prove it violates their copyright before action is taken.

      1. By taking it down, Redbubble takes the noise away from them – its likely they don’t really want it taken down – too valuable as a dog whistle now that they have banged the drum – sorry for mixed metaphors. They don’t really want to shut down twitter either – now that they have increased its value by threatening to.

  5. Lawyers opinions invited but as far as I know cartoons, political commentary, and such are not subject to trademark and copyright infringement unless they infringe on another similar medium. Of course, anyone can sue and a publisher may choose not to fight. There ought to be a punishment for such a frivolous suit with awards given to those impacted by them.

  6. Oh yes with satire you can do all kinds of things than goodness.

    Trump is melting down after Twitter underlined some of his tweet content as not factual. He’s threatening to “shut them down”. It reminds me of when Putin nationalized TV shows and shutdown a comedy that used to make fun of him. All dictators are the same.

  7. Should be interesting! I can’t see how Trump’s whinge can get anywhere.

    BTW, for me the link to the Daily Kos article brings up your post about Sam the Duckling. Maybe that’s just me.

    1. Trump’s is a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) complaint. It’s not necessarily about winning the final right to have the image/speech in the marketplace: it’s about making the journey to that result as painful to the artist/speaker as possible. They want the artist to have to spend lots of time and money litigating the case before he can show is cartoon again, under the expectation that he most likely won’t bother.

      If the complaint was made in a state with anti-SLAPP legislation, then AIUI Trump’s outfit could be liable for ALL the legal costs associated with the case, including all the artist’s legal bills. Which is a better situation. But still probably doesn’t address the time-it-takes-to-fight issue.

  8. I’ll bet that nobody would hear a thing from Trump if there was a cartoon parodying Joe Biden – nor would the Biden campaign make a similar ridiculous demand.

    This from the guy who uses juvenile epithets to demean the people he hates and lies twenty times a day (at least).

  9. I’m pretty sure this falls under fair use parody. This is a pretty standard tactic of intimidation. I hope the cartoonist and his or her publisher stand fast.

  10. I know parody isn’t an automatic “Get out of jail free” on copyright issues , but it could be in this case?

    I recall Trump infringed Queen’s copyright by using their “We Will Rock You” in its entirety at campaign rallies so he and his supporters are fine ones to complain.

    I see the Toddler in Chief is unhappy about his tweets being labelled as misleading by Twitter, calling it a restriction of free speech. And then threatening to close down some (unspecified) social media platforms. You couldn’t make it up.

  11. I wasn’t aware that parody allows “fair use” of material from other people …

    Remember the Campari ad parody Hustler magazine ran about Jerry Falwell in the outhouse with his mother that made it all the way to SCOTUS?

    The case went up to the high court on issues regarding libel, but it contained a lengthy discussion of parody and “fair use,” given that it contained a head-shot photo of Falwell and was a dead-on imitation of the advertising campaign featuring celebrity interviews then being run by the Campari liqueur company.

    The Trump-campaign lawyers have no good-faith leg to stand on regarding their efforts in this matter.

    1. There’s no lawsuit pending (and never will be, since there’s no good-faith cause of action to pursue), just a demand letter from the Trump campaign lawyers. The cartoonist has the support of the CBDLF (an organization I didn’t know existed either), as well as of other artists’ and authors’ organizations, which should be more than enough.

        1. I think so.

          I’ve litigated cases against major corporations (I have one right now against a chain of nursing homes) where I am QUITE sure that if the lawyers did not do EVERYTHING they could in bad faith, and indeed were not being routinely sanctioned for their behavior…well, they just weren’t doing their job. “Zealous” representation and all that.

          Therefore, I’m not sure that Ken is correct in saying that the campaign won’t sue. Because the point isn’t winning; the point is intimidation and getting the opponent bogged down. If their resources are essentially limitless, what’s the downside?

          The only REAL impediment would be the applicable anti-SLAPP statutes. But while I’ve successfully litigated the California ones, I’m not really up to speed on the federal variants. I don’t know if there’s a sufficient impediment there.

          1. You might be right, TG; I’ve learned not to underestimate the weak-tea causes of action some civil litigators will pursue. But I should think that a complaint based on these pitiful facts would be so lacking in a good-faith basis as to expose the lawyers to potential Rule 11 sanctions (or a state-court counterpart).

        2. Yep, which is where the organizations have come to the artist’s support. There’s not much more the ACLU could do. Plus, I think ACLU policy is generally not to get involved in a matter until there’s litigation or some type of official governmental action pending. (Remember, the threats in this matter are coming from Trump’s reelection campaign, a private entity, not from the president qua president.)

  12. Is a news photograph of a MAGA-cap wearing demonstrator a trade mark infringement? Of course not, ridiculous.
    Is a drawing of a MAGA-cap wearing idiot a trade mark infringement? Of course not, ridiculous.

  13. What a tiny, tiny little man he is. Just small, sad and empty.

    I cannot imagine talking to him about anything other than himself, and I find people like that, people who are bereft of any thought other than ‘how does this relate to me and my life?’, profoundly, deeply depressing.

    I’ve known people as stupid and shallow as him and talking to them always left me with a kind of existential chill, like I was talking to a different species and there was a qualitative gap between us that couldn’t be bridged.

    I do not think there is common ground that can be shared with a man like this. I just think he needs to be fought until he is broken and defeated.

    1. Trump to “friend” at Mar-a-Lago: “Well, I’ve talked about me long enough. Now it’s your turn to talk about me.”

    2. I cannot imagine talking to him about anything other than himself …

      There would be no point to it. The meaning of words holds no value for Trump — only their capacity to stir the emotions of his base or to insult his enemies.

      This is a man who, according to sources within his own administration, cannot be troubled to read so much as a one-page memorandum (and who, according to his original ghostwriter, has never once read a book, even the ones he’s credited with authoring). Anyone who’s watched him struggle to read from a prepared text can see that even basic phonics is beyond his métier.

  14. The cartoonist should simply remove MAGA or write MGA or something so there is nothing left to complain about and if more complaints arrive, more Streisand Effect. Two can play the bothersome game.

  15. Too bad they can’t try printing it in The New York Times -a full page but I’m sure that is economically prohibitive.

    1. Perhaps Bloomberg would consider buying the necessary ad space? He did say he would support the Democratic Party campaign efforts even if he didn’t win the nomination.

        1. I know. The quality of the videos they put out is top notch. When I saw those ads I thought “why haven’t the Dems put out stuff as effective as this?”

          1. The Dqaily Beast podcast ‘The New Abnormal’ is great too. Rick Wilson goes into the LP’s tactics w/r/t Trump: they’re basically trolling him, in a much more elegant way than he himself does, and their adverts are superb as a result. They say out loud all of Trump’s innermost insecurities.

    1. Haha! Donald and his minions are really worked up over this fact-check. But there’s nothing he can do about it other then whine.

      1. Well, he can say anything he wants in his executive order. I’m not sure he can make anyone else do anything though. Still, the one thing this guy is good at is making trouble. He’ll find a way.

        I’m sure the social media companies knew this day would come and put it off as long as possible. Either Trump is bluffing or it’s going to be a nasty battle from now until Trump is gone.

      2. As I predicted, it’s going to get worse:

        “Trump’s directive chiefly seeks to embolden federal regulators to rethink a portion of law known as Section 230, which spares tech companies from being held liable for the comments, videos and other content posted by their users …”

        ““In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand-pick the speech that Americans may access and convey online,” according to an undated draft version of the executive order obtained by The Washington Post late Wednesday.”

        The federal government, and the Executive Branch in particular, has so many powers that they can easily cause trouble for anyone or any organization. The abused parties may win in the end but be virtually destroyed by the battle.

    2. Trump’s threat to ban Twitter is like a crack addict threatening to undertake a coca-plant eradication program.

  16. I’m surprised you didn’t know about Mattel Losing their lawsuit against the group Aqua over their song “Barbie Girl” for the same reason.

Leave a Reply