Remember when Time magazine put Christopher Van Hollen Jr., a Maryland state senator running for Congress from Montgomery County, on its politically coveted cover?
No? You win -- it never happened.
Yet voters could be forgiven if they thought otherwise after receiving a new piece of direct mail from the Van Hollen campaign this week. The brochure features a photo of Van Hollen holding a microphone on a mock-up August 2001 magazine front, complete with the trademark Time logo and red border.
The state legislator from Maryland who actually did score a small picture on the cover of the national magazine is one of Van Hollen's rivals in the Democratic primary: Del. Mark K. Shriver. Shriver, the nephew of President John F. Kennedy, was featured that month in a story headlined "Camelot Lives!" about the next generation of one of the most famous U.S. families.
Time said yesterday that the brochure constituted an "unauthorized use of the Time cover and logo" and that its legal department would be contacting the Van Hollen campaign to ask it to stop distributing the brochure.
"No permission was requested in this case, and permission is in fact routinely denied in cases like these," spokeswoman Diana Pearson said. "Only Time editors create Time covers."
The Van Hollen campaign said that it simply wanted an "attention-grabbing" way to highlight what the magazine did have to say about its candidate: In a one-paragraph blurb that talked about Shriver's opponents, the story called Van Hollen "a hero to environmentalists, education groups and gun control advocates."
Campaign manager Steven Jost said the brochure was sent to 40,000 households. But while he defended the campaign's actions as a form of protected political speech, he said it will not use 15,000 more copies the campaign ordered and will instead reprint them "in a manner that makes Time happy."
Van Hollen is one of four Democrats hoping to win his party's nomination in the Sept. 10 primary. The winner will take on Rep. Constance A. Morella (R) in one of the nation's most competitive House races.
This week, former Clinton trade negotiator Ira Shapiro accused Van Hollen and, to a lesser degree, Shriver of circumventing election law by dipping into their state campaign accounts to communicate with voters via the mail, though both had the expenditures cleared in advance by the state Board of Elections.
"I'm sure that the voters of the 8th District will be disappointed by another example of bad judgment and disregard for ethical standards and applicable law by the Van Hollen campaign," Shapiro spokesman Lindsey Marcus said.
Trademarks are subject to a "fair-use doctrine," meaning they can be reproduced for private, noncommercial purposes, said Jan Baran, a lawyer who advises campaigns. But, he said, "this is not a very well settled area of the law."
Laura Handman, a lawyer who has represented Time's parent company, AOL Time Warner, said the fair-use doctrine might have covered Van Hollen had he simply reproduced the actual cover. "But the problem here is the alteration of the cover. To make it appear that the candidate was featured would be a misuse of the Time trademark," she said.
Jost said the Van Hollen campaign did not attempt to mislead voters, but in a random survey, six of 10 uncommitted 8th District voters told The Washington Post that the brochure made them think Van Hollen actually had been on the cover of the magazine. Eight of the 10 said it would make them less likely to vote for Van Hollen.
"It's quite sleazy," said Michael Whaley, a Silver Spring resident.
Jost said all the campaigns have taken liberties with news articles. He cited a Shriver brochure that uses a quote from an opinion column in The Post. The quote, about Shriver's role in foiling a bill pushed by the National Rifle Association, is accurately reproduced, but Jost said Shriver dated it incorrectly and should have signaled that it was from an opinion column and not a news account or editorial.
Shriver spokesman Jay Strell said that the date was a clerical error and that the two brochures weren't comparable.
"The Van Hollen mailing speaks for itself, and if this is any indication, we fully expect that he'll crown himself Sports Illustrated sportsman of the year next week," Strell said.