What is it about presidential campaigns that brings out some of the worst examples of trademark bullying?
Two years ago, we shot down bogus a trademark demand by the Ready for Hillary pre-campaign PAC, which tried to suppress Liberty Maniac’s “Ready for Oligarchy” parody. (Readers of this blog may remember Liberty Maniacs (and its owner, Dan McCall) for having drawn threats from the NSA for calling it “The only part of the government that actually listens.”) Last year, it was a demand from Ben Carson’s campaign trying to take the Carson name off both critical and complimentary campaign wear. In 2012, Ron Paul’s campaign committee contended that its trademark was infringed by a YouTube video that satirized its efforts. And in 2008, we had to seek a declaratory judgment against the Republican National Committee to get it to back off an effort to use trademark to prevent people from using the elephant logo to describe the Republican Party as an object of affection or derision. Each time, the lawyers representing candidates or political committees made stupid legal threats based on a misunderstanding of trademark law (or using pretended trademark law claims as an excuse), and each time, the public response to the demands taught them about the consequences of making such demands.
Now it is the turn of Bernie Sanders’ campaign to learn that lesson. Yesterday a Seattle lawyer claiming to represent “Bernie 2016, Inc.” sent a demand letter to Daniel McCall of Liberty Maniacs, contending that the following parody image, which plays on Sanders’ personal background as an avowedly Socialist candidate by referring to him as a “comrade” and linking him to Communist leaders from the 19th and 20th centuries, might confuse users into believing that the Sanders campaign is voluntarily associating its candidate with the communist party.
Read the whole thing yourself, and laugh politically incorrect laughter.
But, I mean, seriously. For a guy who believes that just about every form of property is theft to resort to this kind of nonsense — well, what can we call it? It’s not hypocrisy, really. Well, what I mean to say is, it’s not that kind of hypocrisy. In my view, it’s a different kind of hypocrisy.
You don’t follow? It’s not, from where I’m sitting, that Bernie really believes in property, and in intellectual property being a kind of property that should be protected by lawyers, and that includes his intellectual property, that he is merely ignorant of the law of parody or for that matter of the prima facie trademark law claim, which is dubious itself. That would make Bernie a hypocrite about his political beliefs.
No, I don’t think so. I think he really is a soft commie. Soft as in, well, from what I can tell, he is not exactly the Trotsky of Flatbush, i.e., a master theoretician. He’s more like what we used to call a “labor socialist.” He isn’t really prepared to line people up against a wall and shoot them like a real Red. He just wants to give away things that belong to other people and, never himself having worked at productive labor, would like to keep it that way.
In other words, Bernie’s no communist at all. In other words, he’s the first guy the Communists line up against the wall after he eases them into power.
The hypocrisy, then, is that Bernie’s unleashing of soft thought control enforcement in the form of unethical IP counsel isn’t, ideologically speaking, in and of itself un-socialist; like most of his political ideas, he hasn’t, I am sure, thought about this at all. So Bernie’s hypocrisy here is not at the level of that of the People’s Vanguard, but instead of the merely petite-bourgoise variety: If Bernie, weak as he is in the ideology department, stands for anything, it should at least be some form of anti-“corporate” populism.
This ain’t populism. And while the other guys in that graphic — Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao — mixed a hell of a better dialectic cocktail than the tummler from Vermont, if he doesn’t pull back on his flimsy trademark spiel he just may demonstrate that in his own cut-rate way he belongs on thescarlet Mt. Rushmore depicted by Liberty Maniacs. After all, they too spoke and oppressed in the name of The People — but really hated people.