Trademarks And Politics

by Goeun Son

President Trump’s foreign policy doesn’t just have impact on national relation with other countries. It unexpectedly touched upon another legal issue: trademark.

Trump posted on Twitter an image that borrowed the famous phrase “Winter is coming” from the HBO fantasy saga, “Game of Thrones”, and included Trump’s likeness and resembled the title font of GOT. That was after Trump announced that the sanctions on Iran’s energy, shipbuilding, shipping and banking sectors would be effective upon Monday, November 5.

For someone who hasn’t watched GOT, the phrase “Winter is coming” is a reference to the final battle for the fate of Westeros, the backdrop of the HBO drama, that will take place between the living and the dead. Obviously, his tweet swept the internet and HBO doesn’t seem to have liked the phrase being used in politics by Trump. HBO would “prefer its trademark not be misappropriated for political purposes,”

In the last post, you learned that trademark can protect any word, name, or symbol. The range of trademark protection complements copyright protection in that copyright doesn’t cover words and phrases, like “Winter is coming” in GOT. And you don’t need to register trademark to get your subject protected, but registration will give you a wide variety of benefits such as national protection, ability to sue in federal court, and presumption of valid trademark. Of course, HBO registered “Winter is coming” for trademark to enjoy its protection.

Although misappropriation of trademark is not well outlined, it generally means when someone uses without permission your property under trademark protection, for which you invested your time, effort, and money. As a result, the infringing person would enjoy the goodwill your trademark generated or ruin the reputation of your property. I don’t think HBO will unnecessarily bring a lawsuit against Trump because HBO can still send a takedown notice and settle. Also, although Trump successfully drew lots of attention using the image, I’m not sure whether Trump confused and took some viewers of GOT because the image clearly shows the likeness of Trump and it was to show beginning of the sanction in advance, not to sell any merchandise that includes the phrase. Well, HBO may already have known that Trump can raise a fair use argument, but just have not liked being engaged in politics.

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