Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Garrison Keillor: IP Bully?

As explained here on, Garrison Keillor, the comedian host of the NPR variety show "A Prarie Home Companion," has issued a cease-and-decist letter demanding the end to a parody of the phrase. A t-shirt vendor, selling shirts that say "A Prarie Ho Companion," has publicized the letter in its entirety.

Garrison: I'm a fan of yours. "Prarie Home" is one of my favorite shows in any medium, and I think you're a great entertainer. I also suspect that your political views are generally well-informed and spot-on.

But let's be honest about the irony of this situation. You're a %&*in' COMEDIAN! Can't you take a joke? Seriously. Back off. Let people heckle you. There is NO CHANCE IN HECK that a reasonable person would think you're hawking these shirts. Further, as a good liberal, you certainly care very deeply about free speech, but you're squelching it right now.

So back off. Please.

P.S. Why aren't you going after this site, which is very clearly a trademark violation that seeks only to cash in on your good name?


At 11:48 AM, Blogger Newscrewer said...

Did you not notice that Keillor was affiliated with the site you linked to? And I've been educated a bit about trademark law regarding this case: holders are obliged to actively protect the trademark--if they don't future larger cases can be jeapordized.

Go to Daily Kos for a HUGE thread on this.


At 6:50 PM, Blogger Bill Herman said...


Thanks for posting. I respectfully disagree with your first point and am fairly confident that your second point, while valid and important, is no reason for Keillor's legal warpath.

First, if Keillor is affiliated with, everyone concerned sure is hiding it. The site doesn't sell any merchandise from the show, link to the REAL site for the show (, or even mention Keillor. In fact, a straightforward Google search (garrison keillor prariehomecompanion) reveals that his name and the spaceless version of his show's title are virtually unavailable together. If I am wrong, however, please provide the link and I'll publicly admit it. (See my interaction with Ernest Miller.)

Second, pursuing clear public trademark infringements is an important part of preventing one's mark from becoming generic. Yet this does not require scorched-earth zealotry. No judge or jury would let me start up a radio show called "A Prarie Home Companion" just because Keillor didn't sue this parodist t-shirt vendor. I can't start making t-shirts that say "No Fear" just because various one-off vendors have long sold shirts with slogans like "Mo Beer".

Further, this is really the biggest problem in areas where direct competition IS in play. This is most common when one brand name comes to symbolize a first mover--an inventor or the first firm to broadly market a given product.

Xerox faced this danger; "to xerox" often means "to copy", and (if memory serves) they've tried with some success to sue their way out. Ditto other potentially-generic trademarks such as Vaseline, Kleenex, and Q-Tips, all of which come to fill the ordinary language to represent the product, regardless of brand. Asprin is no longer a trademark because of this process.

Note, folks, that this does NOT require one to pursue anyone who makes fun of your brand identity in any way or who is in no direct competition with your brand. Rather, Keillor's move is almost as silly as Leo Stoller's ill-fated quest to stop the movie "Stealth" from being produced unless the studio bought him off--for a quarter million--because he trademarked the word "stealth" in relation to sporting goods.

Thanks also for the Daily KOS tip. Here's the link:

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