An online merchant has accused the Bernie Sanders campaign of "trademark bullying" after a Bernie 2016, Inc. attorney sent him a cease and desist letter regarding T-shirts, mugs, and sweatshirts depicting the candidate with historic communist leaders.
Claire Hawkins, a lawyer with Garvey, Schubert, Barer — which said it is "the official organization" of the campaign — sent the letter to Daniel McCall, demanding his company, Liberty Maniacs, stop selling the items.
The products show Sanders next Karl Marx, Joseph Stalin, and others with the tagline, "Bernie is my comrade."
"I was surprised Bernie's campaign would have done that," McCall, who designed the image, told BuzzFeed News. "He didn't seem to be the type of candidate, the type of guy, who would do something like this."
"I'm waiting to see what happens, but I would think Bernie, or one of his staff members will step in and put an end to it. It appears to be pretty silly."
McCall called Liberty Maniacs "a portfolio of my jokes."
"As an intellectual property owner, our client is obligated to take steps to protect its trademark and copyright rights and to protect the good will built up in its name and brand," Hawkins wrote.
Hawkins also demanded the company "destroy and/or take offline" any existing products that use the image.
Paul Levy, McCall's lawyer, responded to Hawkins, accusing the Sanders campaign of "trademark bullying."
In his letter, Levy wrote to Hawkins: "It is your contention, apparently, that an ordinary and reasonably prudent consumer would tend to be confused about whether it is the Sanders campaign that is promoting Sanders' candidacy by associated him with the 19th Century theoreticians of the communist movement as well as with three ruthless Communist Party dictators."
Levy called the contention "absurd," adding that the Sanders campaign "cannot use trademark theories to silence members of the American public who disagree with your client's views and oppose his candidacy."
Levy wrote about the letters in a blog post for Public Citizen, an advocacy group founded by Ralph Nader. He wrote in the blog that that lead counsel for the Sanders campaign told him that Garvey, Schubert, Barer sent the demand letter without any consultation with the Sanders campaign.
Hawkins and a spokesperson for the Sanders campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Mary Ann Georgantopoulos is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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