Trademark Law

Demand letter claims 'Bernie is my comrade' T-shirt is a trademark violation

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A T-shirt maker has received a letter claiming its “Bernie is my comrade” merchandise violates trademark and copyright rights of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.

Daniel McCall’s company Liberty Maniacs is selling the T-shirt and other merchandise, which includes photos of Bernie Sanders and “a rogues’ gallery of Socialist figures Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao,” the Volokh Conspiracy reports. BuzzFeed News and Public Citizen’s Consumer Law & Policy Blog also have stories.

The letter (PDF) from Seattle lawyer Claire Hawkins says the T-shirt uses the campaign’s official logos and is likely to cause confusion. The T-shirt and other merchandise incorporate the look of “Bernie” in the trademarked logo, which has two curving underlines.

“We encourage you to be creative in designing and using your own logos or trademarks to clearly identify you as the source of the efforts,” the letter says.

Paul Levy of Public Citizen, who wrote the Public Citizen blog post, responded to the cease and desist letter on behalf of McCall. In a letter (PDF) to Hawkins, he wrote that the use of the logo is fair use, and the claim of likely consumer confusion “is absurd. You cannot use trademark theories to silence members of the American public who disagree with your client’s views and oppose his candidacy.”

“Bernie Sanders should be ashamed of your trademark bullying on his behalf,” Levy wrote in the letter.

Levy says that, after his initial blog post on the controversy, he received a call from a lawyer identifying himself as the lead counsel for the Sanders campaign. The lawyer said the demand letter was sent without any consultation with the campaign. The lawyer told Levy the letter was part of his responsibility to protect his client’s intellectual property.

“But when I tried to explain to him that such responsibilities do not extend to trying to suppress parodies,” Levy writes, “he complained that I was lecturing him.”

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