Making Fun of a Political Figure - Risk/Reward Question
December 18, 2022 7:56 AM   Subscribe

I would like to start a (short-lived, no doubt) business who's title would be poking fun at a political figure. Help me figure out the risk vs reward.

You are a lawyer and you're certainly not my lawyer and you're certainly not providing me with legal advice.
Suppose I created a business called, for the sake of argument, "An Obvious Parody of Millicent Fenwick, Inc." (except that instead of MF, I'm using the name of some other MF).

I'd be happy enough to spend the cash to incorporate and to make a product for sale. All of that just for the laughs. I assume in the process, I would receive a C&D at the very least. How must cost might there be in handling the expected chaff vs. the joy of having a company named "An Obvious Parody of Millicent Fenwick, Inc."?
posted by plinth to Law & Government (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: No one can possibly answer that question without knowing the extent at which you plan to operate this "business". Are you going to pay to have logos designed, a website created, and products manufactured? Or are you just going to print up a couple t-shirts and tell your friends? And how obvious a parody will this be? And even if it's obvious, is there a potential that you would have to deal with being sued for slander or defamation or something like that?

To me, there would be very little joy involved in spending probably at least a couple thousand dollars on incorporating, making a product, advertising it, and dealing with the hassle of actually selling it — all for a laugh (despite how big an MF this person might be). Add on top of that potential additional legal fees (which could far eclipse your initial investment), and to me, there's your answer.
posted by jonathanhughes at 8:11 AM on December 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

What jurisdiction are you in? What jurisdiction is the politician representing? The answers given for the UK will be wildly different than ones for Iran, and even more so if you are in a different jurisdiction than the politician.
posted by yuwtze at 8:34 AM on December 18, 2022

Response by poster: Jurisdiction: Massachusetts, US
Politician: Some other state, US
posted by plinth at 8:36 AM on December 18, 2022

Best answer: I have no idea about the legal incorporation part using a public figure's name but assume you definitely want a LLC to shield you.

However, I do have experience of domain names in this arena, with a legal advocacy group that is not short of lawyers or legal advice. Even for non-pejorative domains, like (never mind pejorative ones like SueFacebook) you can (and in the case of Facebook, will) lose the domain on the grounds of passing off. For a retail business or an advocacy campaign, that's a catastrophe. I'm sure you could probably win a court case on the grounds you are not passing off but you're going to be years at it. This is an instance where the "chilling effect" is indeed effective.

So don't use Trump's name in your URL, basically.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:36 AM on December 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I assume in the process, I would receive a C&D at the very least.

Maybe, or they go whole hog immediately and just attempt to challenge you in court immediately, or file lawsuits directed at you on a number of fronts at once. Do you have a large war chest to fight legal battles with? Is it larger than the politicians?

They can quickly, easily, and without the goal of 'winning' engage in legal challenges designed to bury you in costly legal activity, even if you can/should/will win, eventually.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:00 AM on December 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Article about
posted by Winnie the Proust at 9:32 AM on December 18, 2022

FTA about

> "You don't want somebody sitting at home creating a Web page to have to file a piece of paper with the Federal Election Commission," he said, "because that will have a chilling effect on political activity.

Yeah this was written in a different decade
posted by parm at 9:45 AM on December 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Organizations with lawyers can file suits. The suits may or may not have merit, but responding to them may require legal representation. You might get help from political organizations or the ACLU. Part of your diligence here is to decide how much bullying you'll stand up to. I applaud your effort and intent.
posted by theora55 at 9:59 AM on December 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

I don’t know anything about LLC’s and such but I do know about trademarks. If this politician has trademarked their name for a similar product, you could get in trouble there too.
posted by mermaidcafe at 11:41 AM on December 18, 2022

Best answer: There's the old legal principle of Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus.
posted by zadcat at 11:52 AM on December 18, 2022 [3 favorites]

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