RNC Backs Down on Threatened Trademark Suit Involving “GOP” and Elephants

July 21, 2008

RNC Backs Down on Threatened Trademark Suit Involving “GOP” and Elephants

Statement by Paul Alan Levy, Attorney, Public Citizen

In a victory for good sense and free speech, the Republican National Committee (RNC) has backed off its claim that designers of T-shirts and other items were violating trademark rules by using the initials “GOP” and elephants.

Last week, the RNC threatened to sue CafePress, an online company that allows users to make T-shirts and other items, for allowing its users to sell items displaying images that included the acronym “GOP” and the “official elephant logo,” in which it has a registered trademark.

Represented by Public Citizen, CafePress warned the RNC that the RNC faced a suit by CafePress to get a court to declare that the company was not violating trademark laws. News of the dispute aroused widespread condemnation and ridicule of the RNC by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Under the terms of an agreement with CafePress, people can use the GOP acronym and elephant to make items, with one exception: People whose designs consist solely of the trademarked “official elephant logo” or the initials “GOP” without any other expressive elements will be asked to get permission from the RNC, using licensing procedures on the RNC Web site. We expect this to apply to a small group, and the RNC says it gives permission freely. This means that people who make T-shirts that have the elephant and a slogan or another image are fine.

The specific terms of the agreement can be found at http://blog.cafepress.com/?p=127#terms. More information about the dispute is at http://pubcit.typepad.com/clpblog/2008/07/rnc-gives-up-tr.html.

We commend the RNC for its willingness to compromise in this manner while encouraging its own supporters (and allowing its critics) to continue the use of the RNC’s trademarks to express their views on the Republican Party and the election.