Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick




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.

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  1. identicon
    Yo ho ho..., 18 Sep 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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