Certain acts become torts only when committed by a certain class of people with a certain intent. Anyone, it seems, can make a fun of a trademark – but competitors can’t. The Muppets can make fun of SPAM by naming a wild boar character Spa’am. MTD, purveyor of Yard-Man Lawnmowers, however, cannot show competitor John Deere’s deer logo running scared (at least not under NY’s anti-dilution statute in 1994 (although it would seem to me that MTD could have said in its ads “We make John Deere run scared”).
Here’s a comment on a trademark that goes beyond poking fun and represents a direct attack on the trademark. I suspect that the brand manager of CAMEL cigarettes did not want to see the huge illustration in the business section of today’s NY Times (free online subscription worthwhile to see illustration): a parody of the CAMEL package with the word CADAVER instead of CAMEL and a dead dog instead of a camel. This version is being distributed on stickers to schoolchildren by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to protest experimentation on animals. The stickers (which also parody SALEM and KOOL) depict monkeys, dogs and rabbits. The tobacco companies, in response, indicate that they only experiment on rats (see tired old joke below).
If the tobacco companies think that the parody raises legal issues, they will confront a common problem – the louder they protest, the wider the distribution of the parody.
Most ironic line in article: quote from tobacco company executive: “PETA is acting irresponsibly handling out tobacco logos to children.”
Most original defense of animal experimentation, presented by different tobacco company executive: “I have to believe, if animals ruled the world, they’d do the same thing.”
Strangest sideshow: Mothers Against Drunk Driving are protesting PETA’s GOT BEER? Campaign targeted at college students, arguing that beer is more healthful than milk. PETA’s response here.
Tired old joke: Labs are beginning to experiment on lawyers, rather than rats, because there are a limited number of rats, the researchers were getting attached to the rats, and there were some things the rats wouldn’t do.