If you’ve been thinking about getting into the business of selling progressive political merchandise like bumper stickers, buttons, or tshirts online, I have some advice for you. Stick with CafePress or Skreened. Don’t bother with Zazzle.
This month, the Republican National Committee has threatened shopkeepers with frivolous lawsuits, trying to shut down shops that criticize the Republican Party. The RNC claimed that no one besides them has the right to mention the GOP, or the Grand Old Party, or the Republican National Committee, or the RNC, or to show an elephant representing the Republican Party. They claimed that to do so would be an infringement of their trademark rights.
That’s ridiculous, of course. People have the right to criticize a company or organization, using that company’s trademarked names or logos. That’s because trademarks are intended to keep commercial competition fair and honest, not to prevent criticism or satire. So, when the movie WAL-MART: The High Cost of Low Price was released, Wal-Mart couldn’t have sued over the use of the trademarked name Wal-Mart in the title, or the filming of the store logo. When there’s criticism involved, even when the thing discussed includes a trademark, trademark law can’t be used to force censorship…
…at least not in a court of law. Lawyers from powerful groups like the Republican National Committee can send out threatening cease-and-desist letters to try to intimidate people from engaging in free speech, though.
When the RNC threatened CafePress, CafePress called the Republicans’ bluff. They said that they’d take the matter to court, if necessary, because they weren’t about to let their shopkeepers get pushed around by bullies who didn’t respect free speech. The Republican National Committee had to back down, because the law was not on their side. The RNC was forced to drop its legal claims.
Skreened, which helps us sell anti-Republican t-shirts manufactured in the USA by American Apparel, made its position on matters like these clear from the start. Skreened will not be intimidated into silence, by jihadists upset over cartoons of Mohammed or by Republican lawyers threatening frivolous lawsuits.
Zazzle, on the other hand, was not so brave. Instead of standing up for the rights of their shopkeepers, the people at Zazzle headquarters surrendered to fear. They agreed to the demands of the Republican National Committee without a fight, and sent out emails to shopkeepers announcing that their anti-Republican stickers, t-shirts and buttons would be censored.
When push comes to shove, Zazzle will sell out its shopkeepers. Skreened and CafePress won’t. That’s why, though I’ll continue to work on marketing progressive campaign gear on Skreened and CafePress, I can’t for the life of me understand why I should bother contributing my designs to Zazzle. All it takes is some high-paid Republican lawyer to come along and make a threat, and my work there will be destroyed, regardless of my legal rights.