Hypothetical scenario: I want to create a couple images that parody the famous slogan "got milk?"

The first will depict a famously creepy person next to a glass of milk. The image isn't meant to be denigrating. Rather, it illustrates the simple fact that even creepy people can drink milk.

The second image features a caricature of Bill Gates next to a glass of milk, illustrating the fact that much of the milk produced in the U.S. is now contaminated with genetically modified food, pesticides, etc.

Could I be sued for such use?

It seems like fair use to me, but the article I linked to cites a case where a lawsuit was threatened against PETA for using an image with the slogan "Got pus?" in an anti-dairy campaign. My image making a statement on GMO could be construed as anti-dairy.

If there's a risk of being sued, would I be safe if I changed the words to something like "have milk" or "got anything else"?

EDIT

I may have answered my own question; I just discovered that PETA's "Got pus" campaign is still active.

got milk?

up vote 2 down vote accepted

It sounds like you're basically talking about using the milk lobby's campaign propaganda to offer one's own commentary on the product. That sounds like pretty solidly First Amendment-protected activity.

I wouldn't be surprised if the dairy association or Bill Gates sent a cease-and-desist letter, or even sued -- especially against someone with few enough resources to look easily bullied -- but I think that a court should conclude that this activity is not a trademark violation or a privacy invasion.

  • Your second paragraph mirrors my thoughts. If Bill Gates sued me and won - simply because I couldn't afford an attorney - he would then have to deal with the fallout. Imagine the headlines: "It's now illegal to criticize Bill Gates." – David Blomstrom Aug 10 at 21:59
  • The First Amendment should of course be the first line of defense. The initial problem here seems to be that this needs to be asserted after being sued. You can't use a First Amendment defense to have a case dismissed without trial. Furthermore, the question specifically mentions parodies, which are a different form of fair use. If you're going the First Amendment route, you should not claim it's a parody, but criticism. – MSalters Aug 13 at 14:43
  • @DavidBlomstrom: Bill Gates would probably have a specific demand in the lawsuit, such as a public apology from you admitting that Bill Gates has never promoted or endorsed pesticides in milk. That won't make any headlines. Of course, you'll still stuck with the cost of the lawsuit and his lawyers, but that won't make the headlines either. – MSalters Aug 13 at 14:50
  • The emphasis is on GMO, not pesticides. Pesticides are just among the baggage that hitch a ride on GMO. – David Blomstrom Aug 13 at 15:18
  • @DavidBlomstrom: That's just setting yourself up for a loss even further. You just admitted in public (again) that you're defaming Gates over GMO's by knowingly using a false accusation of support for pesticides. That's straight libel. And remember, their goal won't be to sue you for the maximum amount possible. If you had a million to lose, you'd be talking to real lawyers. No, any suit against you will be a minimal suit that is impossible to lose. Remember: it's not a SLAPP if the accuser has a solid case. – MSalters Aug 13 at 21:06

Yes, obviously. You can be sued for everything you do.

However, given the circumstances, chances are pretty high that you will be successfully sued. In the lawsuit, you'll have to defend your work. And you seem to be missing a justification.

Not every derived work is a parody. "illustrating a simple fact" certainly is not a parody. So your first defense fails fairly quickly.

The second image isn't a parody either, but might be allowed for the same reason as PETA's work: it's another form of Fair Use, namely criticism. Anti-dairy campaigns are protected as Free Speech. However, that won't protect you from a lawsuit by Bill Gates, in which case you'll need to prove how he is personally relevant.

  • 1
    Convicted of what? I can't really imagine anything here giving rise to criminal charges, let alone a conviction. – bdb484 Aug 10 at 14:14
  • "You'll need to prove how he's personally relevant." That's easy; I'd just ask the judge to type "Bill Gates" + "genetically modified food" into Google. – David Blomstrom Aug 10 at 22:08
  • @bdb484: Agree, incorrect choice of words. – MSalters Aug 13 at 6:39
  • @DavidBlomstrom: That's not exactly the standard of proof that a judge is looking for. I'm not saying it's a lost cause, but you will need a lawyer. It's easy to lose a case by failing to bring up the relevant arguments. – MSalters Aug 13 at 6:49
  • @MSalters - If I get sued, I'm sunk. Where I live, it's impossible to find a lawyer who isn't crooked. So my best defense is to stop people from suing in the first placer. I know there are no 100% guarantees, so we sometimes have to take risks. – David Blomstrom Aug 13 at 14:16

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