Attorneys who purport to work for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders want the Liberty Maniacs to stop calling Bernie “comrade” and to refrain from using his likeness in political parodies.

“Yesterday, April 14th, the Bernie Sanders campaign sent a cease and desist letter claiming that I am unlawfully selling parodies because they used the likeness of the Official Bernie Sanders for President logo in this shirt,” according to the Liberty Maniacs blog.

The site posted the letter, along with a response from attorney and “heroic scourge of copyright trolls across the internet” Paul Leavy, who wrote about the incident in his blog.

The controversial image shows Sanders’ bust profile along with several communist leaders and thinkers like Joseph Stalin, Chairman Mao Zedong, Karl Marx, and others. “Bernie is my comrade,” it reads.

The site sells the image on shirts, mugs and hoodie sweatshirts.

“Due to of (sic) strict campaign rules and regulations, and other legal restrictions that apply to the use of the Official Logos, we must ask you not to use the Official Logos on any of your merchandise, and especially not on merchandise that you plan to sell,” the demand letter read.

“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. Hopefully you see this as an opportunity to creatively and distractively come up with something new and clever on your own.”

Leavy wrote on his blog “Public Citizen” at Liberty Maniacs has received communications in the past from lawyers with the Ready for Hillary PAC and Ben Carson’s campaign over bogus copyright infringement claims, and explained why those demands and the more recent letter from Sanders are basically empty threats.

Leavy wrote in a Friday blog:

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.   

Invoking the campaign’s trademark and copyright in the Bernie 2016 logo, a lawyer named Claire Hawkins has demanded that McCall stop purveying this image.  

Hawkins is not a newbie lawyer; she is a mid-level IP partner at a substantial Seattle-based law firm; her web page suggests that she should know better than to make such trademark claims. …

On behalf of McCall, I have explained to counsel for the Sanders campaign why her trademark and copyright claims (and an election law claim!) cannot succeed.   I hope that she will have the decency to renounce her attempt to use trademark law to suppress speech.

The blog and email response Leavy sent to Hawkins apparently prompted a call from Brad Deutsh, the self-described “general council” for the Sanders campaign, Leavy wrote in an update.

“I understood him to say that the demand letter was sent by the law firm without any consultation with the Sanders campaign, as part of what he regards as his responsibility to protect his client’s intellectual property,” Leavy wrote. “But when I tried to explain to him that such responsibilities do not extend to trying to suppress parodies, he complained that I was lecturing him.

“I recognize that his thing is election law, not trademark law.”


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