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Puttin’ on the “Ritts”: Political Speech and Fair Use

Posted in Mixed Bag of Nuts

Leaving aside the outcome of election day (and indeed I confess I wrote this before the polls closed), I couldn’t help but notice these ads in downtown Minneapolis:

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Look familiar? In various other contexts, this could easily raise the ire of trademark counsel. But the political context enjoys some special protection. Various cases have held that “artistic or political use” of a trademark do not violate the Lanham Act so long as the level of relevance to the underlying work is “above zero.” Rogers v. Grimaldi, 875 F.2d 994 (2d Cir. 1989).

Where the First Amendment and the Lanham Act intersect, the value of political speech takes precedence. So the sign gets to stay, even if you know nothing about Chris Ritts and his candidacy for Hennepin County judge — other than it leaves a buttery, flaky impression in your mind.