I hope I don't get sued for wearing this shirt!

Oh, how I've been waiting for Rex to make this public. Garrison Keillor is totally suing MNspeak.com over this t-shirt, which the t-shirt page clearly and boldly states is parody.

It's just plain sad that ol' man Garrison has to bring in his lawyers at the expense of... well, his sense of humor, and the respect of most anybody hearing about this. He can parody his own film, but nobody else can?

Obviously, nobody buying this shirt is confusing it with A Prairie Home Companion. (Note to Garrison.) Rex says he's on pretty firm legal ground. There is a close precedent in California: Starbucks sued a cartoonist over this t-shirt logo:


Rex can probably relate to that cartoonist's reaction: "It's beyond absurd... like carpet-bombing an anthill." The judge ruled his parody doesn't infringe on Starbucks' trademark. However, the judge also ruled the Starbucks logo was tarnished because of Dwyer's use of the word "whore." In the end, he was allowed to continue using and distributing the logo but not for a profit.

Long live parody!


Pioneer Press: 'Prairie Ho' T-shirts no longer on sale
Power Line supports Rex, and they're lawyers!
MetaFilter thread
Wikipedia entry (scroll down)
Reason thread

September 13, 2005 at 03:14 AM in Copyright, Funny Crap, Weblogs | Permalink


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Can't believe this could happen.
Old liberal media versus new liberal media.
Whats next?
Bush getting the opportunity to name a chief justice?
A Major US city getting washed away?

Posted by: ZuDfunck at Sep 13, 2005 6:47:43 AM

Yeah. This is just assinine, and now unfortunately, my opinion of Mr. Keillor must fall. I have always had a slight appreciation for his work, both comedy and liberal, but now, come on! If he can't see the recockulousness of this and doesn't understand simple parody, then he's loosing it.

Posted by: Lorika at Sep 13, 2005 12:11:35 PM

This is Rex using the legal system for marketing purposes, plain and simple. I like Rex and I like the site (I've contributed to it), but this isn't a free speech thing. GK is just protected his copyright, as Rex had hoped. There are no suprises here.

Posted by: Mike at Sep 13, 2005 4:40:57 PM

Yes it's true, this is no surprise and Rex more or less predicted it, and the ensuing publicity (good for him, not so good for PHC). Although he didn't specifically design the t-shirt for lawsuit publicity as some have suggested... he made them because they're (kinda) funny. When he asked people to vote on t-shirt slogans, this one was of course hugely popular.

Legally it's not a free speech issue, but this kind of behavior does threaten parody. This is a huge, huge problem with copyright/trademark law in general - even if a work clearly falls under parody or Fair Use, it costs Rex (or Chuck) thousands of dollars in legal fees to stand up to cease-and-desist bullying. Unless you're lucky enough to get the EFF or ACLU to work pro bono. The system is heavily biased toward copyright holders and against creative individuals, even if they're operating within the law. This is what really gets my goat.

Posted by: Chuck at Sep 13, 2005 6:26:21 PM

You could create a site satirizing the show, you could even make a radio program, you could make fun of him in a cartoon (Be funnier! Be funnier!). It's when you start making money off of it that it changes.

Making this into a free speech issue cheapens real free speech issues.

Humor aside, it's not like dropping two letters is parody. If anything, it's a typo.

Posted by: Mike at Sep 13, 2005 7:07:55 PM

Hey, we're having a debate! Let's debate Strategic Defense Initiative next!

You'll find that I almost always side with an individual's right to creative expression over a corporation's right to protect its trademark or make a few bucks.

What I said about C&Ds stifling legitimate creative expression is a HUGE concern - in our society and economy, and for me personally, so don't try to say it's not. Obviously it's not the same as First Amendment free speech . This is the realm of commerce rather than civic space. For example - rich people generally have more freedom of speech than poor people. (That's why I didn't interview a certain U.S. Senate candidate who has his face plastered across billboards around the state -- he can afford to reach millions of people on his own.) Corporations and our legal system are setup to crush anyone who tinkers with a corporation's image, by the sheer weight of their legal/monetary threat. That's pretty fucked up.

Changing or dropping a couple letters certainly can be parody.
Look at "Taco Hell" and "Fony" above -- that's one letter, and look how the meaning is changed.

Posted by: Chuck at Sep 13, 2005 9:00:37 PM

So having said that, I have to put myself in GK's shoes. Let's say "Blogumentary" is somehow a huge profitable empire. (I'll pause here, until you stop laughing.) Some blogger punk makes "Crapumentary" t-shirts, black with the same red font. What do I do?

If I'm old and cranky, I don't really know. Right now, I'd want one of those shirts. In fact I totally want to make one now. But, maybe I wouldn't even know about it until my crackerjack lawyers brought it to my attention and said "You've got to protect your trademark, Chuck. Use it or lose it. That's how it works." Maybe GK is just listening to his lawyers - who knows what's going on behind the scenes. So I acknowledge that they are just playing by the standard corporate hardball rules for protecting trademark, especially because there is money being made from the t-shirts.

Posted by: Chuck at Sep 13, 2005 9:11:54 PM

Dude, I'm all for Star Wars, just 'cause the name brings me one step closer to my sweet sweet wookie.

Wait, that's copyright infringement.


You'll find that I almost always side with an individual's right to creative expression over a corporation's right to protect its trademark or make a few bucks.

But for the company it becomes the death of a thousand blows. If you let one person go, then everyone who follows can use that as precident. As the company, you nip it in the bud as soon as you can. I agree that the rich have more access to lawyers, and they (the lawyers) tend to screw things up. But here's another example (one I donated to and you've mentioned elsewhere): Blogumentary VS. Blogumentary. The same laws that protected you in that situation protect PHC in their lawsuit. You were getting ready to fire off a cease and disist because the law was on your side.

I do believe the law treats the rich differently than the poor, and it's simply because the rich can afford more lawyers, the lawyers will do anything for billable hours.

I don't believe that this is not a rich versus poor issue, though. I think too many people view a C&D letter as the Golden Ticket to Wonkaville and scream “Opression from the man!” when in fact they are in violation of the company's copyright.

rich people generally have more freedom of speech than poor people.

Don't you mean that rich people have more freedom of publicity? It's not the same thing to be able to afford the cost to get your message out versus your right to state your message.

that's one letter, and look how the meaning is changed

But did they sell anything with the logo, or did they just use it as social commentary?

Damn, it's too easy to argue both sides of the coin on this one.

Posted by: Mike at Sep 13, 2005 10:01:22 PM

And I swear I've never downloaded anything.

Posted by: Mike at Sep 13, 2005 10:07:19 PM

Ahh at last, Blogumentary v. Blogumentary. :-)

I actually wasn't ever, ever going to send him a C&D - except as an absolute last resort. It made me so very sad to go through the trademark registration process (although your donation(s) made me very happy). It was more like buying a bullet-proof vest and keeping it in the closet, and only if some wacko absolutely insists on shooting at me over and over, would I have to put it on. But recall that I asked him nicely first, and specifically wanted to avoid lawyerly crap.

That wasn't about parody either. A comparable event here would be Rex starting "a" prairie home companion radio show. Not THE Prairie Home Companion, but in that same genre. Well you get the idea - it's quite a different scenario than a parody t-shirt. (Don't forget to buy my hottt new Crapumentary t-shirt!!!)

Re: Freedom of speech. True, rich and poor have the same basic right to express something. But in reality, the effect is amplified thousands of times for the rich, but nobody hears the poor. Unless there's a hurricane. What's the use of having freedom of speech if it's nullified behind a glass wall?

Re: logo - I don't know how those logo parodies were used. I was just countering your statement that changing letters can't be parody.

Re: downloading... umm, yeah, me neither! Definitely not today. Not the new Grandaddy EP, that's for sure. *shuffle*

Posted by: Chuck at Sep 13, 2005 10:30:05 PM

I was just countering your statement that changing letters can't be parody.

I was thinking about this last night and you're right, but I think I see the problem in all of this. The "Fony" and "Taco Hell" were actually directed at Sony and Taco Bell. The Prairie Ho shirt isn't really directed at PHC, so much as just lifting the trademark and changing it enough to be marketable.

Even your crapumentary shirts are parodying Blogumentary (Where's my DVD, btw?).

In my mind, I believe for it to be satire or parody, there has to be a target and I don't think that was every taken into account. This was never about Garrison or Prairie Home. This is just appropriating a registered trademark for profit because it's a recognizable registered trademark.

Posted by: Mike at Sep 14, 2005 9:40:25 AM

if some wacko absolutely insists on shooting at me over and over

What if a thousand wackos insist on shooting you once?

Posted by: Mike at Sep 14, 2005 9:47:36 AM

Why Prairie Home Companion? I dont get it.
And who would buy that shirt???

Its like making fun of your grandpa.

I hope Garrison brings MNspeak (whatever that is) to its knees.
And i hope all the Women who are strong and all the men who are good looking and all their childern (who are above average) laugh and call mnspeak names.

Posted by: Aaron The Truck Driver at Oct 3, 2005 3:24:29 AM