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Trademark, Fandom, and Steelers Nation

Just a bit too late to work into a hypothetical for my Trademark Law class comes news of a new t-shirt being sold in the Pittsburgh region, featuring the image at left.

If you are not a Pittsburgh Steelers or National Football League follower, note that the man pictured is Mike Tomlin, coach of the team and one of the men of the proverbial hour in light of the team’s victory last Sunday over the Baltimore Ravens.

Here is a version of the hypothetical that I might have asked:

Neither the designer of the t-shirt nor its distributor obtained permission of any sort from (i) Mike Tomlin; (ii) the Steelers; (iii) the National Football League; (iv) the City of Pittsburgh (black and gold are the colors of the city as well as of the football team); (iv) the Andy Warhol Foundation; and (v) Obama for America or Barack Obama.  (So far as I know, this much is true.)  Assume for present purposes only that each and all of them asserts some species of IP claim in connection with the image.  (So far as I know, none of that is true.  That’s why I use the introductory “Assume.”)  Assess the plausibility of each claim and its likelihood of ultimate success.

How I found out about the t-shirts:  Today’s story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Buy a t-shirt here, at CommonWealth Press, while you still can.  The designer is Lissa Brennan.


3 thoughts on “Trademark, Fandom, and Steelers Nation”

  1. Tomlin (licensee) for appropriation strongest. Descending from there in stength/weakness to Obama, such being “words, just words.”

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