In recent days we have seen political action committees (PACs) claiming they are "prohibited" from running political ads in primary states due to "new rules" regarding "electioneering communications."  As explained below, these claims are incorrect.  What they are really doing is trying to avoid the need to reveal the identity of their contributors, following a US District Court decision in March.

Under Federal Election law, an "electioneering communication" is a broadcast, cable or satellite communication that refers to a clearly identified candidate for federal office within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of an election, targeted to 50,000 or more people in the state or district the candidate seeks to represent. For President and Vice Presidential candidates, an "electioneering communication" is one that can be received by 50,000 or more people within 30 days of a state primary or the nominating convention.

By federal statute, sponsors of "electioneering communications" must disclose the names and addresses of each donor who contributed $1000 or more to the sponsoring organization. This is is the provision that led to the US District Court decision at issue.


Continue Reading Some PACs Stop Running “Electioneering Communication” Ads to Avoid Reporting Requirements

As we wrote about last year around this time, MARCH MADNESS is a term that is protected by trademark law.  It is owned by the March Madness Athletic Association (MMAA), a joint venture between the NCAA and the Illinois High School Athletic Association (IHSA).   The IHSA was actually first to begin using this mark to describe its high school basketball tournament in the 1940s. 

Brent Musburger brought MARCH MADNESS to public attention in using that term to describe the NCAA college basketball tournament, during which many hearts are broken each year….if you are lucky enough to have a team that made it this far. (Northwestern came this close to its first NCAA appearance.)

Normally, this would be a case of so-called "reverse confusion," in which the junior user of a mark (here, the NCAA) is so much bigger than the senior user of the mark (the IHSA) that the public thinks the mark belongs to the junior user.  In the typical reverse confusion case, the senior user can stop the junior user from using the mark.  But that did not happen here.  Why? 


Continue Reading MARCH MADNESS: An Unusual Case of Reverse Confusion

One of the questions we commonly get from broadcasters and others around this time of year is whether and/or how they can use the term SUPER BOWL.  Some refer to it as a trademark while others call it a copyright.  Who is right…and how can it be used?  The term SUPER BOWL is a registered trademark owned by the National Football League. We previously discussed this issue in 2009, 2010 and 2011

Actually, the NFL owns at least eight trademark registrations containing the words SUPER BOWL, as well trademark registrations for the terms PRO BOWL and even SUPER SUNDAY.  Aside from these trademark registrations, the NFL also owns the copyright to the telecast of the game itself.  You may have heard that in past years, the NFL tried to stop Super Bowl parties shown on large TV screens.  This was an enforcement of the NFL’s copyright in the game.  Now, the NFL apparently no longer tries to stop Super Bowl parties unless the proprietor charges admission to see the game.  Again, this is a copyright issue.  But what do these rights mean for a broadcaster who wants to run a Super Bowl promotion or an advertiser who wants to run a campaign involving the Big Game?


Continue Reading Is Super Bowl Protected by Trademark or Copyright Law? Try Both.

Reading the trade press and the blogs, one would think that the Tim Tebow ad that will reportedly air during the Super Bowl presented novel, controversial legal issues.  In fact, while we haven’t seen the ad, from what we’ve read, there do not seem to be significant legal issues – most particularly ones that arise from an FCC

With the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics less than 2 weeks away, and March Madness not far behind, we once again need to remind our readers that all three are trademarked terms, meaning that their use, particularly for commercial purposes, is limited.  We’ve wrote here last year about the use of the term "Super Bowl" in commercials, and about the use of "Olympics" two years ago (here).  Our warning then bears repeating now – the trademarked terms should not be used in commercial messages except by authorized advertisers.  These advertisers have paid big bucks to be able to say that they are an Olympic sponsor, or that they are having a Super Bowl sale.  The holders of these trademarks enforce them rigorously (so that they can get the big bucks from the official advertisers), so don’t risk their use without official permission.  See our Super Bowl post from last year for details on how to refer to these events without running afoul of trademark limitations.

As we wrote last year, this does not prevent all use of these terms.  News reports about the events can still be given.  DJs can still chat about who is going to win the Super Bowl, or about the latest judging controversy in Ice Dancing at the Winter Olympics.  But don’t try to commercially exploit these terms (e.g. saying that you are "Springfield’s March Madness station") unless you have really paid for the rights to use the trademarked term.  Be careful, as a cute promotional idea can end up costing your station far more than you intended. 


Continue Reading Remember “Super Bowl”, the “Olympics” and “March Madness” Are Trademarked Terms – Don’t Use Them In Advertising Without Permission