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Does the DNC's 'Donald Ducks' mascot run afoul of trademark law?

During the election season, you can count on the fact that every campaign for every office at every level will inevitably involve candidates from both sides of the aisle hurling invectives and accusations at one another, and running advertisements designed to raise questions about the other's fitness for office.

It would perhaps be the understatement of the century to say that this year's presidential campaign season has been no exception, as it seems as if not a day -- or even an hour -- goes by without Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton and GOP nominee Donald Trump exchanging barbs.

By way of example, consider the criticism regularly leveled at Trump and his supporters by Clinton and her supporters over the real estate mogul's refusal to release his tax returns.

In fact, the Democratic National Committee recently unveiled a new mascot that it said will be making unscheduled appearances at Trump campaign events until November called "Donald Ducks." As you might guess, this mascot bears a strong resemblance to the beloved Disney character with the exception of Donald Ducks having a hairstyle similar to Trump and waving signs talking about missing tax returns.

Interestingly, legal experts have been weighing in on whether the Donald Ducks character could be seen as violative of Disney's intellectual property rights.

Indeed, the consensus among them, regardless of political affiliation, is that the DNC could potentially be committing trademark infringement.

That's because trademarks in general are meant to protect against consumer confusion and there's a very good chance that a reasonable consumer could interpret the Donald Ducks character as showing that Disney somehow authorized this political statement.

The other prevailing opinion is that the DNC could be seen as potentially violating federal copyright law by reproducing an otherwise protected Disney character without permission. Specifically, the changes made to the character such as adding the Trump-like hairstyle wouldn't be seen as sufficiently original to take it outside the scope of copyright protection.

It remains to be seen what action Disney will take. However, experts point out that the company has a demonstrated track record of vigorously protecting its intellectual property and, like any large corporation, would likely want to appear apolitical at all times.

Stay tuned for updates …

If you have questions or concerns about copyright or trademark law, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional. 

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