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Can Trump stop StopTrump.us on trademark grounds?

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Can Trump stop StopTrump.us on trademark grounds?
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The US presidential candidate Donald Trump has sent cease and desist letters to a politics oriented merchandise outlet called StopTrump.us in mid September this year. The republican front liner has threatened legal action against the online outlet for using his trademarked name in a derogatory manner, i.e. for the purpose of campaigns against him. 

The website, which is based in Boston, sells merchandise featuring Donald Trump’s name and face along with slogans such as “Donald Is Dumb,” “Stop Trump” and “America Is Already Great”. A portion of the proceeds from these sales is donated to selected charities. Trump’s cease and desist letters to the website have ordered it to stop selling anti-Trump merchandise and hand over the online domain that they are currently using for the purpose of the website. 

Donald Trump, also largely popular as a real estate developer and television personality, among other things, is known to have filed more than two hundred trademark applications for the protection and monetization of his own name. It is said to have been done for the purpose of increasing the valuation of the name itself, in order to enrich its worth as a brand, of sorts.  

The theories of trademark law potentially at work in this case are trademark confusion, i.e. use of a trademark that is “likely to cause confusion” as to who it belongs to, and cybersquatting i.e. the illegal use of registered trademarks in and/or as domain names. However, in this case there is no scope of assuming that the “Stop Trump” merchandise or domain name are endorsed by Trump himself, since they are very clearly “anti-Trump” in nature. Moreover, trademark law does not cover political criticism. 

Apart from his somewhat feeble claims for trademark infringement, recent cease and desist letters from more than one musician on grounds of Trump’s unauthorized use of their music, has further weakened his case. Among the aggrieved musicians are Steven Tyler, lead singer of renowned band Aerosmith, for their popular power ballad “Dream On”; REM, a popular alternative rock band, for their song “It’s the End of the World As We Know it (And I Feel Fine)”; and the veteran Neil Young for his anthem “Rocking in the Free World”. They have all demanded that Trump stop the unauthorized use of their music at his political campaigns. 

It therefore seems futile for Donald Trump to stop StopTrump.us on grounds of trademark infringement. 

October 13, 2015
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