5 November 2018Trademarks

Trump sanctions tweet causes ‘Game of Thrones’ stir

US President Donald Trump prompted claims of trademark misuse by network HBO last week after tweeting what appeared to be a reference to “Game of Thrones”.

On Friday, November 2, Trump tweeted a cinematic-style picture of himself with the slogan “Sanctions are coming” and the date November 5. In a separate tweet, the White House clarified that it is launching a campaign of economic pressure to deny Iran the funds it needs “to advance its bloody agenda”.

Within hours, HBO, which airs the highly popular “Game of Thrones” series, tweeted “How do you say trademark misuse in Dothraki?”, in reference to a fictional language used in the show.

The complaint appears to relate to the phrasing “Sanctions are coming”. While there are no US trademarks listed for that phrase, HBO owns three US marks for the phrase ‘Winter is coming’, covering a range of goods and services, including online and retail store services featuring t-shirts and hats.

“Winter Is Coming" is a popular slogan associated with “Game of Thrones” and is the motto of House Stark, which features in the show.

In a statement sent to The New York Times, an HBO spokesperson said: “We were not aware of this messaging and would prefer our trademark not [to] be misappropriated for political purposes.”

Jonathan Abrams, director at Gregory Abrams Davidson Solicitors in London and who is qualified in New York, said that there does not appear to have been use of the trademarked phrase itself—rather, the use is a parody (albeit with serious undertones) of a registered slogan which is used by the show, primarily for merchandising and promotional purposes.

“This would, in my opinion, become more an issue of copyright infringement and/or a reputational damage complaint,” he added.

However, on the issue of copyright infringement, it would likely be argued that one of the fair use defences may apply here, he said.

Even if there was a genuine trademark complaint, Abrams went on, as HBO has replied with its own tweet and “appears to have acquiesced to the alleged infringement activity by publicly stating that no further action will be taken, this in itself could be relied upon as a possible defence”.

Trump has caused an IP stir before, including in August when the lead singer of rock band Aerosmith, Steven Tyler, sent a cease-and-desist letter to the president after he used the band’s hit song “Livin’ on the Edge” at a rally.

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