Trademarks

Progressive Activists MoveOn.org Sued by Louisiana For Using State Tourism Slogan on Billboard

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MoveOn.org

An interesting new case in Louisiana pits free speech against intellectual property law and a major progressive activist group against the state.

Louisiana is suing liberal political action committee MoveOn.org for trademark infringement for using the state's tourism slogan, "Pick your passion," in a billboard critical of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal. 

It would seem like a bit of an overreach for the state to want exclusive domain over such a generic slogan, but the way MoveOn used it was obviously a play on the tourism motto. In a message critical of Jindal's opposition to Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, the MoveOn billboard says: "Pick your Passion! But hope you don't love your health. Gov. Jindal's denying Medicaid to 242,000 people." 

The state is now taking legal action against MoveOn in federal court.

In a statement announcing the suit, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said, "MoveOn.org has every right to attack Gov. Jindal, the state's refusal to accept Medicaid or, for that matter, me personally. But they do not have the right to use our protected service mark, which is used solely for the purpose of promoting and marketing Louisiana. We own the mark and its use is under the direction of my office, not the Office of the Governor."

Because MoveOn is a liberal group openly critical of GOP Gov. Jindal, some are suggesting that the lawsuit is politically motivated. But barring vindictive government conspiracy, there are still legitimate First Amendment issues at stake. 

"Neither Governor Jindal nor Lt. Governor Dardenne will silence MoveOn members," the organization said in a statement. "This billboard is protected by the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech. Instead of wasting our time and theirs with a pathetic attempt to suppress criticism of the state government, state officials should focus on helping nearly 245,000 Louisianans access Medicaid."