I blogged about the Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne’s lawsuit against MoveOn.org three weeks ago, and said that I “expect[ed] the case to be promptly thrown out of court.” Well, yesterday the court indeed rejected the lieutenant governor’s request for a preliminary injunction; see Dardenne v. MoveOn.org (M.D. La. Apr. 7, 2014).
The case is over the following billboard, which MoveOn.org put up in Louisiana, using Louisiana’s tourism slogan and other imagery:
Dardenne — who is also the Commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism — sued MoveOn, claiming that MoveOn is infringing on Louisiana’s trademarks. Louisiana owns the service mark described as,
Louisiana pick your passion logo: “Louisiana” is in purple uppercase Letters, with exclamation points replacing each letter “i.”. “Pick your Passion” is in red, in a modified cursive font, angled upwards from left to right, beneath the word “Louisiana.”
Dardenne is asking the court for an injunction:
[p]rohibiting MoveOn.org from using anything other that the mere words contained in the Service Marks, thus prohibiting the use of the font style, the substitution of exclamation points for the letter “I” in the word “Louisiana,” the copy of the photograph of the plate of crawfish taken from the Department’s website, and art work and colors that are taken from the Service Marks.
And here’s a key passage from the court’s opinion rightly rejecting Dardenne’s argument (some paragraph breaks added):
The State argues that viewers of the billboard will be confused into thinking that the Lieutenant Governor, as the alleged owner of the service mark, is being critical of the Governor. In this Court’s view, the Lieutenant Governor underestimates the intelligence and reasonableness of people viewing the billboard.
The State’s argument that viewers of the billboard may be confused into believing that the Lieutenant Governor is criticizing the Governor is strained. First, viewers would have to know that the service mark in question is a creation of and sponsored by the Lieutenant Governor’s Office. There is no evidence of this.
Furthermore, neither the Lieutenant Governor himself, nor the Office of the Lieutenant Governor as an agency of the State, is the owner of the mark. The owner of the mark is the State, and more specifically its citizens.
Hence, the Court is being asked to find that viewers of the billboard are likely to believe that the State, as the owner of the service mark, is being critical of the Governor. The State argues that MoveOn.org’s billboard does not criticize the owner of the mark, the State of Louisiana, but rather it criticizes Governor Bobby Jindal. Essentially, the State argues that the target of MoveOn.org’s parody (Governor Jindal) is not the holder or owner of the mark (the State).
The question is whether the disconnect between the owner of the mark and the target of the parody creates viewer confusion. In other words, is a motorist viewing the billboard likely to conclude that the State of Louisiana is criticizing Governor Jindal. The Court thinks not.