WDC Response To Cease-And-Desist Letter
After the letter we received from the Washington, D.C.-based interest group Citizens United was made public, we have heard from a number of attorneys with expertise in trademark law and have reviewed numerous cases including Bosley Medical v. Kremer, TMI v. Maxwell, Taubman v. WebFeats, Lamparello v. Falwell, Utah Lighthouse Ministry v. Foundation for Apologetic Information, and Citizens United v. Citizens United Not Timid.
We are convinced that Citizens United does not have a legitimate claim of trademark infringement against our protest of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that we called "Citizens United Against Citizens United." We use the phrase in a generic, descriptive sense and both our online petition and the campaign's Facebook page clearly state that the protest was organized by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
We did not appropriate Citizens United's logo. The logo we created for the campaign is a play on the Democracy Campaign's logo, not Citizens United's mark. Nor did we seek to trade on the group's name. We are not doing the equivalent of selling "MacDonald's" hamburgers under a yellowish arch or using something resembling the Nike swoosh to sell shoes. We aren't selling anything. No t-shirts, no bumper stickers, no buttons. We are not using this effort to solicit contributions to our cause. We are simply seeking to mobilize public opposition to the Supreme Court's assault on our democracy and mobilize public support for legislative actions to repair some of the damage done by the court's decision in Citizens United.
It is clear we were singled out because we do not share Citizens United's view that the Supreme Court ruling was a great victory for the First Amendment and for free speech. After all, there are a great many groups that should have received the same letter we got a long time ago but have not . . . Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy, Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants, Citizens United Resisting Euthanasia, Citizens United for Animals, Citizens United for Democracy. The list goes on and on.
It is preposterous to claim, as Citizens United's attorney has, that the name we gave our protest might confuse people and leave the impression that it was organized or approved by the group Citizens United. Nevertheless, it is in our interest to remove any possibility of confusion, however remote, and it is in our interest to make sure our effort is not associated in any way with the unsavory tactics employed by Citizens United or the dubious body of work that group has produced. So we are changing the name of our protest to United Citizens Against Citizens United, effective immediately.
We believe the claim of trademark infringement made by Citizens United was silly and stupid and more than a little ironic. The temptation is great to get all macho about these kinds of things and strike a belligerent pose. But we see nothing to be gained by responding to this sophomoric act with more silliness and stupidity. Surely our federal courts have more important disputes to consider.
In any case, our quarrel is not with Citizens United, it is with the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United. In the end, we had to decide whether we wanted to spend our time in court in a legal squabble with this interest group, or spend it organizing public opposition to the court's decision and working for reform. We choose the latter.
Changing the name of our campaign to United Citizens Against Citizens United does not diminish it in any way. We are still citizens. We are still united in opposition to the outrageous judicial activism of the current court majority, whose behavior was summed up by Justice John Paul Stevens this way: "Essentially, five justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law."
They legislated from the bench, and in so doing gave a great gift to the wealthiest and most powerful interests in our country and dealt a horrible blow to ordinary citizens. We will continue to do everything in our power to see that this ruling does not stand for long.