Don't Ask Oprah To Run For President; She Might Sue You

from the seems-a-bit-problematic dept

Oprah Winfrey certainly has a lot of devoted and passionate fans out there. Some of them have even spent years trying to convince the queen of daytime talk TV that she ought to run for president -- creating a website and even a book to push Oprah towards that goal. However, it seems that, not only is Oprah not interested in running, she's not interested in anyone pushing her to run. In fact, she's ready to sue them. Larry Lessig points out that the authors of the book and related websites have received cease and desist letters accusing them of copyright infringement, trademark infringement and violating the right of publicity law in Illinois. Just about all of these seem questionable. The strongest case may be made for copyright infringement, as Oprah's lawyers claim that images used in the book and on the site are copyrighted images. It's not clear if the images really are owned by Oprah's organization or not -- but a case could still be made that the use of the images is "fair use" -- similar to the way concert posters published in a book can be fair use, despite the book being "for profit."

The other claims seem to have even less to back them up. Trademark law, as we've pointed out repeatedly, is to prevent confusion, not give the trademark owner full control over the mark. No one reading the book or the site are likely to confuse them as being part of Oprah's empire -- and just because some of the URL's have the word "oprah" in them, doesn't give Oprah the right to shut them down. While trademark law does say you need to actively pursue violators to keep the trademark, it's difficult to believe anyone would find this an actual violation. Finally, while if you read through Illinois' right of publicity law, it's hard to believe it would ban someone from putting up a website or writing a book urging someone to run for president. It seems like the book falls under the first exception listed in the law, as the book is being used to portray or describe Oprah. Still, the most important part of all of this is that these are clearly some of Oprah's biggest fans. For her lawyers to think that it's intelligent business practice to send a nastygram to them is pure business folly.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    ScytheNoire, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 5:41am

    Oprah ate my cat

    yup, yet another celebrity asshole.

    BTW, i'm going to sue TechDirt for posting my comment. i know i typed it and hit the submit button, but somehow i now feel as though my thoughts have been stolen and are being published on the internet without me getting any royalties for my thoughts and time i spent typing these words. :P

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 6:38am

    ScytheNoire you think thats is funny soo do I but i am sure this will happen soon enough maybe not with TechDirt but they are millions of Forums out there.

     

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  3.  
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    Oprah for prez!!!, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 6:41am

    Oprah understands the American way

    This just further shows why she should be president.

    Oprah has grasped what is rapidally becoming America's favorite pasttime and semi-profesional sport: Sueing people for something that is either not illegal, or that actually benefits you.

     

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  4.  
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    Belak, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 6:51am

    Dude...

    What a bitch. Seriously...

     

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  5.  
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    Ben Robinson (profile), Sep 18th, 2006 @ 6:58am

    Don't get Oprah to review you false memoirs...

    Or her vagina will hold you hostage at gun point ;-)

     

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  6.  
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    Gabriel Tane (profile), Sep 18th, 2006 @ 7:15am

    I knew it...

    I know she does a lot of support and charity, but there was always something about her that I just set off alarms in my head. Something I just couldn't put my finger on that made me not like her.

    And it just manifested itself. I knew it.

     

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  7.  
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    Yo ho ho..., Sep 18th, 2006 @ 7:37am

    Just so you know...

    This makes me think that it is time I launched a new website:

    "www.IhateOprah.com"

    Let the countdown to lawsuit clock begin...

     

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  8.  
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    Nilt, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 7:38am

    Phone number too?!

    Interesting they also don't want them to use any phone number containing the word "Oprah". Just strikes me as funny.

     

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  9.  
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    fuzzix, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 7:40am

    Re: I knew it...

    I know she does a lot of support and charity...

    Most of these social leeches associate themselves with charity work (publically and vociferously) to offset any criticism that might come their way. A tiny fraction of their yearly income and a couple of well chosen photo ops is a small price to pay for this shit-shield.

    "Leave her alone - she does great work for charity!"

    I find her cries of discrimination distasteful. I think her show promotes increasingly simplistic views about human relationships (or is that the other one? The bald, giant self-hater with the southern US accent and constant look of bewilderment?) and her audience creeps the shit out of me... never trust anyone who smiles all the time, man. Some of 'em look like they're about to bust open with frustration... Their superego's gonna crack wide open right there and expose the glistening, screaming viscera within.

     

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  10.  
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    James, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 7:42am

    I think you're wrong...

    ... wow, I am almost always in total agreement with you guys, but not here.

    While its true, tradermark laws doesn't give the owner of that mark total control over it, per se, this is a case where folks COULD confuse the presidential push with her own activities.

    As a celebrity and a person under the public eye she has to watch her image even if the causes seem noble.

    Most likely what these folks should do is make it VERY clear on their website (and everywhere else for that matter), if they do not, that they are an indepedant operation and are in no way related to the Oprah juggernaut.. then perhaps her case might have less permit.

     

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  11.  
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    Zwxphtt, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 7:44am

    An interesting point

    is that I just happen to be in the middle of a class action suit to sue the phone companies because I CAN'T use my name in a phone number.

     

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  12.  
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    Mike Donte, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 8:02am

    time to write her off

    Oprah Winfrey is a spokesperson for for braindead upper middle-class losers who can't think for themselves. I do not understand America's fascination with this woman, and she has repeatedly revealed severe levels of idiocy ("The reason I believed it was because it was so unbelievable" - essentially her excuse for the James Frey debacle).

    Time for America to fixate on another undeserving moron.

     

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  13.  
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    MEOIP, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 8:09am

    Phil

    Maybe she needs to talk to Dr. Phil about her feelings in this situation. In all honest she should hire a campaign manager saying she is exploring the idea of running and start selling Oprah 08 stuff rake in the cash then not run.

     

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  14.  
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    is going on here???, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 8:19am

    What the fuck

    This is TECHDIRT. Not GOSSIPDIRT, or LAWDIRT. TECHDIRT. Are the story posters idiots? Morons? Retards? What does this have to do with TECHNOLOGY? I first started reading this site and even put it on my Google homepage because I like reading about TECHNOLOGY but sadly I will probably soon remove it because now I am reading bullshit about OPRAH. FUCKING OPRAH! What the hell is wrong with you people????? CUT THE BULLSHIT AND GET BACK TO BUSINESS!!! THERE'S MORE EXCITING THINGS IN TECHNOLOGY TO READ ABOUT THAN HOW OPRAH MIGHT SUE ME!!! MAYBE IT'S BE DIFFERENT IF SHE SENT THE CEASE AND DESIST LETTERS TO HER FANS BLACKBERRIES SHE GAVE AWAY A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO.

     

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  15.  
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    ulle53, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 8:56am

    Re: What the fuck

    dang, looks like someone is having a bad hair day.. Slick you ought to chill out before your blood pressure gets too high

     

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  16.  
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    DreadedOne509, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 8:56am

    Brad and Angelina!

    Did you guys hear that Brad and Angelina are going to secretly anter into matrimony?!?!?!?!

    Who gives a shit about any of those clowns, Oprah, Bard Pitt etc? Overpaid circus clowns all of them, same with pro sport's...

     

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  17.  
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    Adam, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 9:00am

    Re: Don't get Oprah to review you false memoirs...

    Yeah, but last time that happened, things didn't work out very well for Gary in the end!

     

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  18.  
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    Dave, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 9:06am

    Well, she sure has the swollen ego and shrunken intellect required to become president of the US of A. Not like the bar is set above zero or anything.

     

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  19.  
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    Just Lost...., Sep 18th, 2006 @ 9:09am

    Re: Re: I knew it...

    What is wrong with you the women gives away millions NOT"A tiny fraction of their yearly income " as you stated. The overall problem here is you hate to see anyone at that level of comfort in life. As for " a couple of well chosen photo ops" cmon this comment is unfair, you know as well as the rest of the world that once your a celebrity the PRESS hound your every move, so therefore I doubt very much she needs to ever call any press for so called photo- ops. Now don't get me wrong I'm not a fan...I just understand to give respect where respect is due.

     

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  20.  
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    Gabriel Tane (profile), Sep 18th, 2006 @ 9:11am

    Re: What the fuck

    Yeah, because overuse of capitalization and repetative punctuation (!!!!! and ?????) is going to get your point across as a mature and contributing member of our community. I'm sure things will change your way.

    Also, if you're going to leave, then do so. Don't send in posts about how you're fed up and you're leaving. That's not being fed up, that's being starved for attention.

    Finally, insulting the people who run the place? I'm sure they're going to listen to your creative input on how to run the place since you're so supportive to the site.

    Now, shouldn't you be in school little boy? Or is it a Teacher's Planning Day?

     

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  21.  
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    EDH, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 9:38am

    Re: I think you're wrong...

    Let's put it this way... She (and all other celebrities) should be well aware of what they are getting into. They are willingly putting themselves out there, in the public eye, they shouldn't have any right to sue for something like this. I agree with someone else that made a comment - I want to start an IHateOprah website. Let's see her sue me for that... freedom of speach people. I'd sue her rich-ass right back for trying to squash my American freedom. How's that?????

     

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  22.  
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    anon cow, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 9:40am

    they could just claim that the whole thing is parody and avoid any copyright claims.

    black, female, lesbian running for president. hilarious! gore would even have a chance running against her!

     

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  23.  
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    EDH, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 9:41am

    Re: Re: Re: I knew it...

    Like I said in my last post... celebrities know what they're getting into. Tough.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Mark, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 9:59am

    Re: Re: What the fuck

    Slick may have the subtlety of a rabid pit bull, and express himself like a petulent child trying desparately to get attention, he does have a valid point.

     

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  25.  
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    Rabid Wolverine, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 10:16am

    Stupidity

    Stupidity is alive and well! Not only is the subject matter of this entire little tirade stupid but the replies are stupid indicating that the people are stupid! At least on this one.

    So what if she want's to sue, what do you expect from someone like her.

    And so what if TechDirt wants to post it, what do you expect from them (by the way it is their website...)!

    If don't like it, don't read it...

     

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  26.  
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    August West, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 10:31am

    Oprah and Tech Dirt

    I'm tired of reading gossip about Oprah on Tech Dirt. Lets all gossip about Michael Jackson or Tom Cruise for a while.

     

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  27.  
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    Dizzley, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 10:40am

    Pros and Cons

    The story is valid and of some interest - I like to know if people are going to sue my ass just for having a website which offends someone.

    Then I want to know how far they get with their frivolous law suit.

    If Oprah objected to the direction of the books and website, perhaps she could have tried persuasion and argument before launching a full legal assault?

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 10:46am

    I'd say that the article has some degree of tech merit, though, because it's about legal issues involving a website dedicated to Oprah and its owners being sent a c&d.

    I know I'm grasping at straws with what I just said, but I see very few non-tech related articles when I come around TD most of the time, so it's defo not worth getting into a tizzy over.

     

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  29.  
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    Gabriel Tane (profile), Sep 18th, 2006 @ 12:22pm

    The "Tech" in Techdirt

    I seriously doubt that TD's mission is to report soley on mechanical technology. And while this thread has certainly skewed into the realm of gossip, this article did start out talking about how Copyright and Trademark law applies to a website. That sounds like an applicable story to me.

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 3:25pm

    Re: Re: Re: I knew it...

    What is wrong with you the women gives away millions NOT"A tiny fraction of their yearly income " as you stated.

    Well, that's almost a sentence.

    "Millions" is a tiny fraction of her yearly income. She could give away 2 mil and it wouldn't amount to even 1% of what she makes.

    She might be hounded by the press but you can bet she's orchestrating as many press events for herself as she can.

     

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  31.  
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    satan, Sep 18th, 2006 @ 9:47pm

    she could never win anyhow, you have to be a real liar and a dirtbag to win or just rig it

     

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  32.  
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    csh, Sep 22nd, 2006 @ 10:20pm

    Re: Re: Re: I knew it...

    You are an idiot if you believe she give away anything significant.

    She's just like Bill Gates and all the rest.

    Yes, they give a way a lot, but they can afford it, and it has zero impact on their life.

    If you want to see a true giver, look to the person who actaully makes a sacrifice to give to others.

     

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