The issue of copyright, intellectual property, fair use and the re-mix generation have been a point of contention for this current Congress and the Obama administration. It should be no surprise then that Nerds for Obama have been asked to remove all items from their webstore by Obama for America‘s corporate counsel. The administration and Congress have proven themselves again as friends of the copyright protection lawyers.
The website, launched in early September, attempts to engage young and enthusiastic voters by linking President Obama to pop culture like Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Game of Thrones and more. They engage, quite effectively, with social media getting geeks excited and leveraging memes.
The site also provided the chance to purchase t-shirts, buttons and stickers of the Obama campaign logo mashed up with geek imagery as well as free items to use as icons on websites. The idea being that people can show off their support in a fun way and support Obama along with their cultural interest, taking a play from the popular tactic of political campaigns targeting their campaign swag. You’ll see “Jews for Obama”, “Teachers for Obama”, etc. Hell I had a “Beer drinkers for Kerry” back in 2004.
The website was engaging fandom and targeting groups of people that are normally overlooked by campaigns. I could go into a long diatribe about trying to target video game players while working on a Presidential campaign some years ago. The Obama campaign even seemed to dig it, reblogging on Tumblr a photo of the website’s “Ravenclaws for Obama” button.
But, fun an politics don’t seem to mix. The website was contacted by Obama for America’s corporate counsel and asked to remove all of the items from the Nerds for Obama website. The lawyers took issue with the usage of the Obama logo, which is a trademarked image. In all cases, the website had modified the logo and never used it in an unaltered form.
There’s a good chance this falls under “Fair Use.” “Fair Use” is permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders. When determining it you need to look at how much of the work is used, what the purpose of the use is and any damages/losses that might be due to the “fair use.” And, even I’ll admit, this is a grey area, not clearly defined and I’d be unsure how a judge would decide the case.
No matter, this copyright trolling by the Obama campaign’s lawyers hurts the campaign. It disenfranchises potential supporters and puts a damper on those who have participated. The campaign and their lawyers are taking the fun out of it all. There’s clearly enthusiastic supporters here and instead of trying to end the site’s activities, it’d have been smarter to bring the site into the fold and encourage it, much like so many “Draft” movements have done in the past, including one for Obama.
But, in the almost four years in office, the administration’s actions has clearly turned it’s back on the re-mix culture and generation that helped propelled it into the White House. It’s no shock to see this, and unfortunate too. No matter the result and how this is resolved, this reflects poorly on the campaign and administration.
The campaign, and President need to return to the fun whimsy of the Doctor, instead of the cold calculated heart of the Dalek.