A Donald Trump parody of Disney’s “Donald Duck” created by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) may run afoul of federal trademark laws.
The DNC deployed a Donald Duck caricature named “Donald Ducks,” to heckle the candidate for failing to release his tax returns. The mascot makes unwelcome appearances at Trump rallies, brandishing signs jeering the candidate. The mascot also staked out Trump Tower in New York City Thursday, Aug. 18, where he posed for pictures.
Trump is the first presidential candidate in modern political history to refuse to release his tax returns, claiming his finances are the subject of an Internal Revenue Service audit. He has promised to release them at the audit’s conclusion.
— Liberal America LLC (@LibAmericaOrg) August 19, 2016
Josh Gerben, an intellectual property lawyer based in Washington, D.C., told the Wall Street Journal’s Jacob Gershman that the DNC mascot may create a false impression of association among voters, in violation of federal trademark laws.
“U.S. trademark law prevents use of a registered trademark to create a false association with the owner of the trademark,” Gerben said. “In this instance, if a reasonable consumer would believe that Disney had authorized use of the DONALD DUCK trademark to launch a political attack on Donald Trump, then there would be trademark infringement.”
The company also enjoys its own unique status in federal copyright law, which renders practically all Disney creations after 1922 out of the public domain.
Disney is notoriously protective of its trademarks, maintaining a full time anti-piracy task force to police use of its titles and characters. Nor is the company gun-shy, having earned a reputation for extreme litigiousness; it has even sued resellers peddling tickets to its own theme parks for using trademarked Disney characters in their promotions. Use of pictures of Disney icons, including Cinderella’s castle, are also extensively protected, with exceptions for individuals who take photos in connection with vacations.
Neither the DNC, nor Walt Disney Corp., have commented on trademark and copyright issues surrounding the mascot.
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