White House v. The Onion

How bizarre is this: the White House has sent a cease-and-desist letter to The Onion for using the presidential seal on its page of parodies of the president's weekly radio address. With all the scandals going on—and, oh yeah, a war—you'd think the Bush crowd would find other things more pressing. Although, maybe it's a ploy: like Bill Frist, maybe White House insiders bought stock in Onion, Inc., right before issuing the attorney's letter, one that's sure to put The Onion's radio spoofs (which I never knew about) on the map. I'm gonna use that seal too, in hopes it'll improve my site traffic.

Update 10.28: The Onion responds, and it ain't pretty.


Jim R said...

Why isn't the seal public domain?

Paul Schmelzer said...

Great question. Maybe it's part of the same rule that prevents me from wearing a sheriff's badge if I'm not a cop.

Paul Schmelzer said...

Here y'go, Jimblor. Copyright guy Siva Vaidhyanathan emails:

"It's in the PD as far as copyright and trademark is concerned. But there is a specific
statute that limits uses of the seal. It's not a copyright or trademark thing, exactly.
It's distinct and special.

Generally, it's a good rule. It limits the commercialization of the presidency. It
limits parody somewhat, but not seriously. It keeps companies from running ads that
imply presidential endorsements (Reagan's jelly beans, Bush's mountain bike, Clinton's
cheeseburgers, Kennedy's condoms, etc.)

So yeah. The White House has this thing. It's probably not the worst thing to protect.
It would feel better if we had a real president, of course. He's more of an insult to
the seal than the Onion is."