Being President is a busy job. The American government is absurdly complicated, something Donald Trump is discovering by experience. But that doesn’t mean he won’t take personal time. In this case, he took the time to work with his personal attorney to threaten Berkeley Breathed, the creator of newspaper strip Bloom County, with a cease-and-desist order over a Facebook meme.
When we say “personally,” we’re not exaggerating. Breathed posted a letter he claims he received from the firm of Kasowitz Benson Torres, signed by Marc Kasowitz, Trump’s personal attorney. Trump specifically is taking issue with what he claims is inappropriate use of his image to promote and sell Bloom County merchandise. But it’s the second to last paragraph that will likely draw the most attention:
To use language you might understand (per my client’s wishes) we will “have your [redacted] in a sling by lunch.”
Breathed, for the record, holds a Pulitzer Prize. As for the photo itself, you’ve likely seen it: It’s the widely shared Facebook gag of Vladimir Putin and Trump sharing a horse ride without their shirts. All Breathed seems to have done to it is add the shirts, and a jab or two at Trump’s alleged connections to Russia.
But is Trump’s threat legit? All the junk you see using the likeness of Hillary, Trump, Obama, and others is technically illegal, but usually politicians are too busy to bother suing every last novelty store and CafePress shop, so it largely goes ignored. There’s also the issue of parody, which is protected under intellectual property law as fair use, versus satire, which isn’t.
Trump, however, is in a unique position. He has trademarks and a brand to protect, so in theory, in his private business, he needs to spend time dealing with this or those trademarks will lapse. That said, it’s unlikely that spending his time going after respected cartoonists is a good look. This isn’t a lawsuit, of course: A cease and desist letter is simply the first step in a long process. Then again, that can be said of a lot of things that may consume Trump’s attention.
UPDATE: Buzzfeed News contacted Kasowitz about the cease and desist letter, which Kasowitz states is a fraud: