Lt. Governor Of Louisiana Sues Over Parody Campaign Targeting Governor's Policies

from the's-awareness-legwork-for-it dept

Here comes IP law, being pressed into service as a censor once again. (h/t to Techdirt reader dave blevins)

The state of Louisiana is suing for its billboard criticizing the state’s Governor for his Medicaid policies. It uses the state’s trademarked slogan (“Pick your passion!”) as part of its commentary. Here’s the billboard in question.

This billboard prompted Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne into action, who sent a cease and desist on behalf of his office in an effort to get the signs taken down.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne sent a cease-and-desist order to MoveOn on Thursday, asking the advocacy organization to take down a billboard along Interstate 10 that parodies Louisiana’s “Pick your Passion” tourism slogan. The billboard, which mentions [Governor] Jindal by name, is critical of the governor and legislators’ decision not to expand the state Medicaid program under federal health care reform.

Originally, Dardenne claimed the billboard could confuse people, making them think the state itself had created the signs. But his cease and desist order contained more than just that particular claim, with apparent cases of “confusion” only being limited by the lawmaker’s imagination. Here’s some of’s response to the C&D.

First, the determinative issue is whether the use of the Mark creates a likelihood of confusion among relevant consumers. Clearly, MoveOn is not using the Mark for the advertisement of any goods or services of its own whatsoever. Your letter contends, however, that there is a “strong likelihood that a reasonable consumer will believe the Lieutenant Governor is the source. . .of the billboards” and is likely to be confused into believing this office is involved in a dispute with the Governor over Medicaid expansion.”

To the contrary, MoveOn’s sponsorship of the billboard is clearly denoted. The advertisement is manifestly a criticism by our client of the position of the Governor on Medicaid expansion. The Lieutenant Governor is not mentioned or referenced in any way in the advertisement. No reasonable Louisiana citizen or visitor could conceivably look at this billboard and conclude that it is about a dispute between two state officials, as opposed to a criticism of the Governor’s policy by an advocacy group.

That’s a pretty extreme stretch by Dardenne. Had he stuck with simple confusion of whether the state itself was behind the billboards, he might have been on more solid ground in terms of reasonableness. But as the response letter notes, Dardenne himself implicitly acknowledged the billboard was a parody. When it came to specifics detailing exactly how was misleading the public, Dardenne failed to provide any.

You allege that the billboard had “already caused confusion regarding the source of the message” but cite no facts or evidence.

Now that has shot down his C&D, Dardenne is taking the organization to court.

“We have invested millions of dollars in identifying the Louisiana: Pick Your Passion brand with all that is good about Louisiana. No group should be allowed to use the brand for its own purposes, especially if it is for partisan political posturing,” Dardenne said in a statement announcing the suit.

“ has every right to attack Gov. Jindal, the state’s refusal to accept Medicaid or, for that matter, me personally. But they do not have the right to use our protected service mark, which is used solely for the purpose of promoting and marketing Louisiana. We own the mark and its use is under the direction of my office, not the Office of the Governor.”

The filing reiterates Dardenne’s claims that the billboard gives the impression that the Lt. Governor’s office is attacking the governor of the state. It also makes the claim that because Governor Jindal is not the “author” of the claimed marks, the billboard is not a protected parody.

Louisiana and federal jurisprudence has provided that a parody is defined as an artistic work that imitates the characteristic style of an author. For the purposes of copyright and trademark law, the nub of the definitions, and the heart of any parodist’s claim to quote from existing material, is the use of some elements of a prior author’s composition to create a new one that, at least in part, comments on that author’s works. Plaintiff avers that infringement of the Service Marks by does not constitute parody under the fair-use doctrine because the subject of the parody, Governor Bobby Jindal, is not the author of the Service Marks, as is required.

While Dardenne’s claim is technically correct (in regards to commenting on the “author’s” work), in terms of confusion, there’s very little separating a state’s slogan and its government (as a whole, rather than a division of wholly separated offices according to Dardenne’s hair splitting). Dardenne’s claiming that because his office (the Lt. Governor’s) designed the state’s word mark and slogan, it is no longer a protectable parody. This argument utitlizes imperceptible (to outsiders) differences in an attempt to remove the parody protections that would appear to cover MoveOn’s work.

Whether or not the court agrees with Dardenne’s arguments remains to be seen, but the underlying feeling that this is solely a politically-motivated move (with all of its First Amendment implications) is palpable. is a left-leaning organization, while Gov. Jindal and his lieutenant are both Republicans. Simply utilizing trademark law to shut down criticism is always a bad idea. Allowing political motivations to override common sense is even worse. As the article notes, has deployed similar campaigns in Texas and Florida, but no state rep has been foolhardy enough to attack speech by brandishing the state’s trademarks as weapons.

In the long run, even if Dardenne wins, he (and the state) still lose. This legal attack has only raised the visibility of MoveOn’s critical campaign. And the cries of “censorship” that would follow a successful lawsuit will only make the office of the governor look worse.

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Comments on “Lt. Governor Of Louisiana Sues Over Parody Campaign Targeting Governor's Policies”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Free speech for me but not for thee

That sword cuts both ways. has proposed that major newspapers in this country refuse to publish letters to the editor that are critical of Climate Change. is nowhere near a noble defender of free speech. They’re just partisan hacks.

But, as any good First Amendment advocated knows, the First Amendment isn’t just for people you agree with, it for lefty partisan hacks and climate deniers alike.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Hilarious

As a conservative this part is what I hate most about the Republican party.

But you have to be fair… the Democrats really do not seem to be any bit better. Both parties seem to worship at the corporate wang. As long as that muny keeps rolling in, they keep sucking away. They only stop long enough to make sure that the peasantry are not getting too rowdy over it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Hilarious

It has been very effective too.

George Washington in his farewell address pretty much predicted the Civil War and our current problems having this 2 party system.

He said for everyone to be “Americans” and stop this North/South, East/West, Party vs Party crap and succinctly explained why. Our founders seem to be men ahead of their times and we have spend the last 50 years pissing it away as fast as can be.

Baron von Robber says:

Re: Re: left-leaning?

Well the joke being that leftwing loons are quick to call “Hitler” in the comment section. That’s call Godwin’s Law

I was pointing out a rightwing retard that was quick to call out “Stalin” in a comment section wondering if this is Anti-Godwin’s Law.

Now back to the playpen with you.

John Snape (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 left-leaning?

I’m not sure where, exactly, I said MoveOn.Org are murderous dictators.

Can you point to the sentence where I said exactly that?

You might want to turn down your sensitivity dial. The quick and severe backlash might signify I’ve hit a nerve where I didn’t mean to.

Mr. Fenderson, et al., doth protest too much, methinks.

JBDragon says:

Re: left-leaning? is so far to the left, it’s a FACT!

In this case, trying the Ban the sign the way they are trying is wrong. Obamacare is a scam. The Federal Government has zero right to take control of Medical care. It’s not under the Constitution. One size does not fit all. If it was so great, Obama himself wouldn’t be changing the rules every 5 minutes. If the state wants to do it, that ones thing. People have the right to flee it. The federal Government is into a lot of things it as zero right to be in and it continues to grow and grow. Take and Take.

Have you even been to the Web site? It’s ALL Leftest agenda on every single story. Hell click on About, a few times saying right there PROGRESSIVE!!! There’s only one side, the Leftest Agenda. I am against trying the ban the sign they way they are going about it. If anything, Counter the sign with FACTS.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: left-leaning?

I’m against Obamacare (but for reasons that you’d probably disagree with), but this:

“The Federal Government has zero right to take control of Medical care. It’s not under the Constitution. One size does not fit all.”

Just indicates that you don’t actually understand what the law is doing. It’s not “taking control of medical care” and it’s not a “one size fits all” system.

Anonymous Coward says:

MoveOn needs to be careful

If MoveOn and their attorneys are very careful here, they should be able to get the Lt. Governor to testify under oath that he used state funds for the benefit of his office, rather than the state. With a few carefully worded questions, they can probably get him to testify under oath that he violated laws about how state funds can be used.

Richard Stallman says:

This lawsuit is based on trademark law. Please don’t refer to it as
“IP law”, since all that does is drag in other unrelated laws
(copyright, patent, trade secret, publicity rights and more) that
have nothing to do with the issue. It causes confusion.

Avoiding this confusion is as easy as pie: just remember not to use
the term “IP” (except when you mean “internet protocol”). In fact,
you have to go out of your way to cause the confusion. Too bad
so many writers go out of their way.

See for more explanation,

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Around here it actually represents something that is similar to all of us: “IP law” (encompassing all you mentioned) can be used to stifle criticism. No confusion is intended, except that which you are manufacturing. We talk about “IP law” here a lot. The authors are fully aware that the other laws have nothing to do with this issue. The point remains that all of those laws can and have been used to stifle criticism and have been used by bad actors in nefarious ways.

Even you can agree with that, Mr Stallman.

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