Image courtesy of MoveOn.org
MoveOn.org, an online service that helps American citizens develop petitions, has a slogan. That slogan is “Democracy in Action,” and the site purports to promote participation in the democratic process with the purpose of enacting change. Well, the company is getting a taste of the darker side of the legal system now, as it has been slapped with a trademark infringement suit by the state of Louisiana.
Like MoveOn.org, Louisiana has a slogan as well, a tourism slogan: “Pick your passion!” This is the intellectual property that Lt. Governor (and Commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism) Jay Dardenne has accused MoveOn of infringing upon.
At the heart of this dispute is a billboard located just outside of Baton Rouge. The billboard, sponsored by MoveOn, criticizes Bobby Jindal’s policies that would deny Medicaid access to thousands of Louisiana residents. The text of the billboard reads: “LOU!SIANA Pick your passion! But hope you don’t love your health. Gov. Jindal’s denying Medicaid to 242,000 people.”
Lt. Gov. Dardenne is asking the court for an injunction, on the basis that the billboard uses several key features of the registered service marks (the colors, the phrasing, the use of the exclamation point in place of the letter “I”) and a photograph of a plate of crawfish taken from the state’s website.
Lawyers for MoveOn strongly believe that there is no violation of trademark law, as the billboard should be protected under the First Amendment. This is likely true for several reasons. First, trademark violations hinge on the idea that consumers might be confused by the use of trademarked material, but its unlikely viewers of this billboard will think that the Louisiana tourism board erected it. Also, there us a free speech issue, as the billboard is clearly satirical speech aimed at criticizing the government of the state.
On its website, MoveOn stated that it will leave the billboard up, “even if we have to take this fight all the way to the Supreme Court.”
For more on trademarks and copyrights, check out the following: