Great Seal, not Gray Seal!

The editor at Blawg Review sends along this link, in which the White House sent a cease and desist letter to the editors of The Onion instructing them to stop using the presidential seal on its satirical website.

I’m surprised the president deems it wise to spend taxpayer money for his lawyer to write letters to The Onion,” Scott Dikkers, editor in chief, wrote to Mr. Dixton. He suggested the money be used instead for tax breaks for satirists.

That’s actually a silly argument — “how silly that taxpayer funds should be used for X” — because it tends to prove too much (everything the government does could be put in for X) and, in fact, because the legislation referred to in the letter represents a policy choice that, yes, taxpayer money — probably none was really spent, since a staff attorney sent the letter — should be “spent” on this project.

The Onion‘s lawyer evidently wrote back and argued the satire defense and — far less convincingly — a lack of commercial use since the Onion is free. That’s pretty stupid, since the Onion is not not-for-profit (and even not-for-profits have been held, under some of our favorite bad caselaw, to be making “commercial use” of trademarks just by using them). I imagine they do charge for those ads on the site, after all. In any case, I don’t know if the Presidential Seal statute even contemplates the traditional Lanham Act defenses; I would assume it does not.

Of course, his suggestion that the White House seek tax breaks for satirists is well taken here.

In any case, it does look like everyone was a pretty good sport about it:

Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said that “you can’t pick and choose where you want to enforce the rules surrounding the use of official government insignia, whether it’s for humor or fraud.”

O.K. But just between us, Mr. Duffy, how did they find out about it?

“Despite the seriousness of the Bush White House, more than one Bush staffer reads The Onion and enjoys it thoroughly,” he said. “We do have a sense of humor, believe it or not.”

Why wouldn’t I believe it? Look at the Meirs nomination.

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Author:Ron Coleman

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