MoveOn.org lawsuit- Trademark Infringement or Free Speech? Reply

Did you know that it’s a trademark infringement issue that Louisiana’s lieutenant MoveOn billboardgovernor has sued the nonprofit MoveOn.org over? (I gotta tell you that the defense of “free speech” keeps coming to my mind).

The trademark at issue is PICK YOUR PASSION [likely USPTO Reg. No. 4022761] which is owned by the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism for the purpose of “promoting culture, tourism and business in Louisiana.”  The claimed infringement is an alleged misuse of the tourism trademark PICK YOUR PASSION by MoveOn.org which criticizes Louisiana’s governor for refusing to expand Medicaid with the following slogan, “LOU!SIANA Pick your passion! But hope you don’t love your health. Gov. Jindal’s denying Medicaid to 242,000 people.”

The complaint filed in the lawsuit alleges that MoveOn’s “political statement” (which is on a highway billboard, YouTube videos and television commercials) is a trademark infringement, because, it “confuses the viewing public as to the source” of the billboard message.

Confusion, specifically, the likelihood of confusion as to the source of goods and services is paramount in evaluating trademark infringement (codified in the Lanham Act).  However, the free speech protections granted by the First Amendment can be a defense to allegations of trademark infringement (parody is one type of free speech).  The general rule, regarding the free speech defense, is that “anyone, competitor, critic or comedian” is permitted to use a trademark to criticize the policies of the mark owner.   Here, MoveOn is using non-commercial speech to criticize the governor of the State of Louisiana and not the State’s Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism (who owns the PICK YOUR PASSION trademark) with their political statement.  It will be interesting to see how this lawsuit develops.

It seems the lawsuit has already launched a whirlwind, national campaign for MoveOn.org to raise money and awareness about their political agenda.  It’s hard to say how many folks noticed the billboard on the I-10 interstate approaching Baton Rouge, Louisiana before the lawsuit was filed…. it’s getting attention now.

The MoveOn.org billboard was still up yesterday (3/25/14), when my mom took the photo above.  (And as a humorous post script, the next next billboardbillboard on I-10 after the “pick your passion” billboard at issue touts a steamier message).

BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq., LL.M.

For personalized legal services you are welcome to contact me at vk@kasterlegal.com

See also: The case, Dardenne v. MoveOn.org, case number 3:14-cv-00150 available at http://media.nola.com/politics/other/Dardenne%20Complaint.pdf; McCarthy On Trademarks, vol 4 and vol 6 on parody and free speech defenses; MoveOn.org which features the lawsuit on their website’s homepage at http://front.moveon.org/; The Louisiana Office of Tourism’s website at http://www.crt.state.la.us/;  photos by Pam Kaster at www.pamkaster.com; @iplegalfreebies and www.kasterlegal.com.

 

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