Don’t steal that presidential seal

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Jan 19, 2009
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Don’t steal that presidential seal

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Jan 19, 2009
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Bob Moon: So maybe you’ve heard President-elect Obama has a few things on his plate, including, it turns out, the official presidential seal. And we’re not just talking about the fancy insignia that appears on White House china and the presidential lectern. The seal has also been showing up in lots of places it’s not supposed to. All around Washington you can buy T-shirts and buttons adorned with the seal. But as Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer reports, that’s actually illegal under federal law.


Nancy Marshall Genzer: The presidential seal features an eagle, surrounded by stars and a golden circle. It looks great on a T-shirt. Lyndon George is buying two T-shirts from a downtown Washington street vendor. There is a big picture of President-elect Obama on the front. Below it, the presidential seal.

Lyndon George: No, I didn’t pay any attention. I was looking at the front of the shirt and the logo. I didn’t notice the seal.

Vendor Ann Kagwa didn’t notice the seal either, when she purchased the shirt from the manufacturer. She says this is a lot of fuss for a short-term problem.

Ann Kagwa: They’ve got better things to do, I’m sure than worrying about, you know, how long are we going to do it? A couple of more months?

But, when pressed, Kagwa admits she’ll probably be selling “Obamabelia” for at least the next six months. Obama’s inauguration has become a sale-abration. There’s “hot 4 Barack” hot sauce, along with shot glasses, mouse pads and bobbleheads. University of Richmond Law Professor Carl Tobias says the White House can’t do much about the use of Obama’s image, because he’s a public figure. The law just tries to prevent the commercialization of the presidential seal.

Carl Tobias: You could advertise a product, and show the seal, and that might lead people to believe that the president had actually endorsed it.

Violators of the law can face six months in the slammer. But Tobias thinks White House lawyers will be too busy to prosecute. And he doesn’t think they’ll need to. A warning letter, with the presidential seal on White House stationary, will probably suffice.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

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