As someone in the public eye, I’m careful to protect my trademarks, name and likeness, and all that stuff . . . but I’m also a passionate supporter of the First Amendment, Fair Use, and everyone’s right to parody public figures and institutions. (Said the guy with the “Hello, My name is William Fucking Shatner” T-shirts in his cafefpress store.)
Now, I also understand that there’s a fundamental difference between those things I’ve just outlined above, and thinks like infringement, stealing, being an asshole, etc., and the differences are usually quite clear . . . unless your name is Garrison Keillor.
On a Tuesday night two weeks ago, the letter showed up in the mail. It is included below, so you can see for yourself the kind of verbal mastery it takes to make a legal document sound like Keillor’s forlorn nostalgic prose.
Let’s quickly review the situation: Garrison Keillor — a liberal comedian! — is threatening to sue MNspeak — some blog! — that uses a t-shirt to poke fun of his mega-gigantic media empire. You’d think we shot Guy Noir or something.
The blogger, Rex Sorgatz, called up Keillor’s lawyer, and tried to work out the misunderstanding. Rex pointed out that he was protected by the First Amendment, and the principle of Fair Use. He suggested that it probably wasn’t in Keillor’s best interests to sue him. The lawyer did his lawyer thing, and ten days later, Rex found out that Keillor is sticking with the C&D.
I’ve temporarily honored the cease and desist, but haven’t decided how to proceed. Since there were only about 10 shirts left (and I had no plans on reprinting new ones), there’s no real economic reason to pursue this. And besides, let’s be clear about the scope of what we’re actually talking about: a fairly stupid t-shirt with four words on it. In an age of much bigger problems, is this really worth fighting for?
I’m not going to have to go to court and pay attorneys and deal with all the annoyance. At the end of the day, though, it’s about much more than a T-shirt. It’s everyone’s right to parody and the principle of Fair Use. It’s about not letting someone with more money and fame bully you, just because he thinks he can.
I’m pretty sure the EFF will get involved with this, and maybe the ACLU. I have always liked Garrison Keillor, and I hope that he’s just getting really bad advice from someone. I hope that he’ll realize that this is a very bad idea, and give Rex a break. I sincerely hope that Garrison Keillor changes his mind on this, so I can follow this up with Liberal Comedian Comes To His Senses.