Copyright Protection in the 2016 Presidential Election

Copyright David Kittos

As the 2016 United States presidential election nears, the Republican Presidential Candidate, Donald Trump, was duly reminded of crucial elements in U.S. copyright law.

In September of 2016, Mr. Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., made a statement comparing Syrian refugees with a bowl of Skittles, the bright and chewy candy. To further illustrate the comparison, he tweeted a photograph of a bowl of Skittles with the hashtag, “#trump2016.”

Gathering an estimate of 20,000 “likes” and 18,000 “retweets,” the publicized photograph of the bowl of Skittles traveled as far as the United Kingdom, reaching David Kittos, a UK based artist and photographer who is fact, the lawful copyright owner of the unique image of the bowl of Skittles. Alleging that the campaign illegally used his photograph to illustrate the Republican campaign’s stance on refugees, Kittos sued Mr. Trump, his son, his campaign, and the vice presidential nominee, Mike Pence. Kittos is seeking to protect his intellectual property rights by requesting unspecified money damages, as well as an injunction against the campaign to discontinue the use of his image.

Contrary to trademark or patent law, copyright law protects an original work the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. What this means is that if an artist, for example, captures a photograph, he/she does not have to necessarily register the image with the U.S. Copyright Office in order to be able to prevent others from using the image without his/her permission. However, registering your works can provide many important advantages:

  • Registration establishes a public record of your copyright;
  • Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U.S. origin;
  • Registering within five years of publication gives you prima facie evidence of copyright ownership (i.e., irrebuttable proof that you are the lawful owner of your work); and
  • Registering within the first three months of publication gives you the opportunity to seek statutory damages and attorney’s fees in an infringement lawsuit.

Therefore, registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office in its earliest phases is highly advised in order to ensure maximum protection of your creative works. Luckily for Kittos, the registration of his image will allow him to fight for the proper protection of his intellectual property rights.

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