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White House Cease & Desists to The Onion 781

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the now-this-is-not-a-joke dept.
raj2569 writes "You might have thought that the White House had enough on its plate late last month, what with its search for a new Supreme Court nominee, the continuing war in Iraq and the C.I.A. leak investigation. But it found time to add another item to its agenda - stopping The Onion (soul sucking, life sapping, irritating, obnoxious, but still free registration), the satirical newspaper, from using the presidential seal." The only joke here is that our tax dollars are being spent on this.
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White House Cease & Desists to The Onion

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:31AM (#13871093)
    why not the government?

    Seriously, with the recent frenzy over "intellectual property" restrictions, why shouldn't the government get into the restraining free speech business, like everyone else?

  • well... (Score:5, Funny)

    by mtjs (918147) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:32AM (#13871102) Homepage
    hahahahahahahah ha ha haha ha. YOUR tax dollars.
  • I dunno (Score:5, Insightful)

    by julesh (229690) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:33AM (#13871110)
    I mean... they could find somebody dull enough to believe the Onion was actually a real presidential announcement.

    The point is, though, that the seal is used to indicate official documents, etc. Using it on the Onion does make it look official, to the uninitiated. I'd suggest they should use a modified version, like whitehouse.org [whitehouse.org] does.
    • Re:I dunno (Score:5, Funny)

      by bzipitidoo (647217) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:41AM (#13871191) Journal
      Nah, everyone knows The Onion is a joke. The Onion said so. Maybe the fear is that people will think the current administration is a joke too. Oh wait...
    • by hey! (33014) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:45AM (#13871231) Homepage Journal
      Like a red semi-transparent banner across the seal, with the following words;

      The Whitehouse thinks you're too stupid to realize this image is a satirical fake.
    • Re:I dunno (Score:3, Informative)

      by ajs (35943)
      It's not a matter of confusion, but of the nature of the seal. This is not a trademark.

      This might be hard for most people to understand these days (since we don't use seals the way we used to), but let me use an analogy. Let's say that The Oninon put up a story which featured your company's CEO's signature. I'm sure that within a short span of minutes, they'd get some pretty irate calls from your executive management team. Same exact deal here. The President's signature is actually not terribly potent, as h
      • Re:I dunno (Score:3, Informative)

        by Threni (635302)
        > Let's say that The Oninon put up a story which featured your company's CEO's
        > signature. I'm sure that within a short span of minutes, they'd get some pretty
        > irate calls from your executive management team.

        That's a trademark issue - they *have* to defend it. No-one has to defend a presidential seal, especially on a satirical website, because you can tell from the URL that it's not really an official presidential website, and if you weren't sure you could read the content and tell straight away t
    • Re:I dunno (Score:3, Informative)

      I have not read TFA (silly registration required stuff), but this could be related to http://weeklyradioaddress.com/ [weeklyradioaddress.com] which, AFAICT, does not have anything that immediately says it's satire. And it's not just "evil corporations" and "the foolish American government" that are protecting certain images (such as logos and seals), but mozilla.org has trademarks, IIRC the Linux penguin is trademarked, it wouldn't suprise me if the slashdot logo was trademarked. And there are reasons for trademarks.
    • modifying the seal (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gad_zuki! (70830) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @09:43AM (#13871730)
      If someone is stupid enough to be fooled by "Study Reveals Pittsburgh Unprepared For Full-Scale Zombie Attack" or "Bush Disappointed To Learn Chinese Foreign Minister Doesn't Know Karate" then something tells me a slight modification to the presidential seal isnt going to make any difference.
  • First amendment? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Alranor (472986) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:33AM (#13871111)
    Citing the United States Code, Mr. Dixton wrote that the seal "is not to be used in connection with commercial ventures or products in any way that suggests presidential support or endorsement."

    Well they're hardly using it to promote a commercial venture, and if you can find someone who reads one of these Onion pieces and believes it suggests presidential support, could you point them in my direction, as i've got this bridge i'd like to sell them.

    Wouldn't this be covered under the parody rulings made based on the First amendment?
    • Re:First amendment? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by julesh (229690)
      Wouldn't this be covered under the parody rulings made based on the First amendment?

      Not necessarily. They can say the same things equally effectively without attaching the seal to them, so I don't see that it is necessary for them to have such protection.
    • by mungtor (306258) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:56AM (#13871330)
      IANAL. But, if they took down the ads and got rid of the registrations then it would not be a commercial venture. However, since they are using the articles to drive traffic to the ads and they are being paid for ad placement, it _is_ a commercial venture.

      The redesign sucks anyway, I don't know who bothers reading it anymore.
    • Re:First amendment? (Score:5, Informative)

      by roystgnr (4015) <[ude.saxetu.macit] [ta] [rngtsyor]> on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @09:33AM (#13871634) Homepage
      Well they're hardly using it to promote a commercial venture,

      If that's true, they should drop the banner ads, and they should definitely stop intercepting hits to their home page to display interstitial commercials. Today the Onion is trying to get me to buy shoes, watch TV shows, eat fast food, report software pirates, wear jeans, buy belts, buy The Onion books, and go to the theater. I certainly hope they're getting paid for all that.

      and if you can find someone who reads one of these Onion pieces and believes it suggests presidential support,

      Okay, here you go:

      http://www.weeklyradioaddress.com/ [weeklyradioaddress.com]

      This is the page that made me think they may have a case. I too thought that this was just another attempt by the Whitehouse to bitchslap dissent, because I thought that they were just talking about the presidential seal graphics that might be in photos used in obvious parody articles about the President.

      But look at this page. There's no info about the Onion (you'd have to have started from an Onion page [theonion.com] to find out the connection), all the links go to official whitehouse.gov pages, the style is that of the official whitehouse.gov page, the server uses local copies of their potentially copyrighted graphics, and they've got a nearly identical (it says "Resident of the United States" now) copy of the Presidential Seal in the upper left corner: large enough to recognize, but small enough that the modification (even assuming it's always been modified) isn't obvious.

      Could someone listen to one of these addresses and not realize they were listening to a parody? I doubt it, but then again I knew they were an Onion parody before I ever went to the site, and I've only listened to one address so far. Since the Onion's humor is sometimes of the prescient "it's funny [theonion.com] cause it's true [theonion.com]" variety, I could definitely imagine there being addresses in there capable of fooling people.

      could you point them in my direction, as i've got this bridge i'd like to sell them.

      Well, I'm not buying, but there's no story so ridiculous you won't find someone to buy it. Even the Onion's regular articles have fooled the Bejing Evening News, MSNBC, and some fundamentalist Christian groups [wired.com] in the past.
  • No reg link (Score:4, Informative)

    by lastchance_000 (847415) * on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:34AM (#13871117)
    Here [nytimes.com]
  • by foolish_to_be_here (802344) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:34AM (#13871127)
    For the Onion to use the seal is not a job but is "satire". For the current administration to use it is a "joke".
  • Well... (Score:5, Funny)

    by ElGuapoGolf (600734) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:35AM (#13871128) Homepage
    I gotta say, I give the White House (and more specifically the current administration) some credit on this. Sure, Clinton didn't give a shit when The Onion used the presidential seal, but that was just a sign of the contempt that budget balancing whore had for the office of President.

    Now this administration may be able screw up the invasion of the wrong country, leak the names of CIA agents, mismanage hurricane disaster relief efforts, funnel billions to Haliburton, put scientific research back decades, and turn the country into a joke in general, but they'll be *damned* if they're going to let some satire magazine use the Presidential seal in an article with a headline such as "Bush: Vacation ruined by 'Stupid Dead Soldier'".

    Bravo!
    • Re:Well... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by LarsWestergren (9033) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @09:11AM (#13871442) Homepage Journal
      This latest news together with the recent "war against porn" makes me wonder if the US administration isn't running out of things to distract the publics attention with away from their failures.

      Perhaps they might have a special dislike for The Onion too. Their headline the day after the 2000 election:
      "Bush - our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over!"
  • Commercial purposes (Score:5, Informative)

    by jbeaupre (752124) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:36AM (#13871141)
    From the NPR report this morning, it seems to revolve around use of the seal of the president for commercial purposes. Pretty cut and dried. Everyone else from IBM to the Red Cross protects their identification. The question is: Is the Onion the only high profile entity to use the symbol? I don't know. Does Saturday Night Live use the exact symbol? Or do they change it slightly? Seems the Onion could do the same. Everybody goes away happy.
  • no way to stop it (Score:3, Interesting)

    by netwiz (33291) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:38AM (#13871156) Homepage
    The seal is the property of the people of the United States of America. It's not copyrightable, it's not trademarked, and satire is protected speech under the constitution. I don't see how in the world there's even the suggestion that there's legality behind silencing the Onion. Okay, not really silencing.

    The Onion should be able to get around this by the smallest of photoshops to make the seal different. And if it's done in a parodic manner (like everything over there), then there's just nothing that can be done.

    As someone else posted already, your tax dollars at work! (not that it matters, this'll be a drop in the bucket compared to everything else)
    • Re:no way to stop it (Score:5, Informative)

      by will_die (586523) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:47AM (#13871250) Homepage
      The Seal of the President, Senate, Vice-President,etc are NOT the property of the people of the USA they are the property of the government of the USA and there is a major difference between thoses two.
      As for the mis-use of it congress put it rather high, 6 months jail time [cornell.edu].
      Over all not that much of a big issue, someone complained, the customized form letter was sent out as required by federal law, and as you mention the onion will have to make some changes and will probably get a few funny articles out of it.
      • "are NOT the property of the people of the USA they are the property of the government of the USA and there is a major difference between thoses two"

        I've never heard that before. Can you point to a link that explains the difference? It sounds interesting.
      • by npsimons (32752)


        The Seal of the President, Senate, Vice-President,etc are NOT the property of the people of the USA they are the property of the government of the USA and there is a major difference between thoses two.

        So I guess the phrase "a government of the people, by the people and for the people" means nothing to you? WTF is wrong with this country when the government is held to be a higher, "special", separate class from the governed? WTF happened to free speech?

  • Trademark Dilution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by theGreater (596196) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:39AM (#13871173) Homepage
    Think of it in those terms, and one has no choice but to agree (unless one subscribes to the idea of "IP" being bad-mmkay). The presidential seal is like a trademark; it cannot be used without approval. To allow use in unofficial printed/published matter (a la The Onion) dilutes its efficacy. Therefore this letter, to which The Onion properly responded by requesting formal permission to use said seal.

    The great point, which the NYT dutifully points out, is that someone in Washington with access to powerful ears reads The Onion. Whether or not this individual has a sense of humour is another story entirely.

    -theGreater.
  • by SumDog (466607) * on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:41AM (#13871192) Homepage Journal
    I heard this on NPR this morning on the way to work. The reason why the White House office even knows about it is because their own staff reads The Onion because at least they have a sense of humor.

    On another note, isn't this protected under parody? If not, could they take the logo and add a triangle around it and then say it's protected under parody?
  • by Traegorn (856071) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:43AM (#13871210) Homepage Journal
    The Onion crosses political borders, and while it's Madison, WI roots may suggest a liberal sensibility, I can't believe that this is the smartest move (politically) that the White House could be doing.

    Regardless of the legal issue - as I am not a lawyer and cannot claim to speak to the limits of Satire and protected speech - many people who read the Onion are so called "Independents." Now, in this day and age, when the country is looking polarized, it can only further reinforce those who may only drift to the Democratic side into becoming much stronger Partisans.

    With the 2006 midterms coming up, and considering that it's those with strong partisan feelings who vote in midterm elections, this is really a part of a larger trend that may drive people away from the Republican party.

    ...wait, I'm a Democrat. Keep suing Bush! Keep suing!
  • by pr0nbot (313417) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:45AM (#13871223)
    From TFA:
    Moreover, she wrote, The Onion and its Web site are free, so the seal is not being used for commercial purposes.

    The first thing I get when you go to the Onion's site is a full-screen ad. So, there is money being made. Just because it's free doesn't mean it's not commercial.
  • Two points (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lawrence_Bird (67278) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:45AM (#13871227) Homepage
    1) To the original poster - are you incapable of writing your own summary? Nice cut
    and paste

    2) The Onion may be free, but it *is* commericial - it has a lead in ad as well
    as ads on its pages.

    3) The government does this all the time.. they are just glacially slow in doing anything about it.

  • D'oh (Score:4, Funny)

    by Sheepdot (211478) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:47AM (#13871246) Journal
    "Despite the seriousness of the Bush White House, more than one Bush staffer reads The Onion and enjoys it thoroughly," he said. "We do have a sense of humor, believe it or not."

    He went on to state that the White House staffer that found it is actually a closet libertarian, doesn't really like Bush, and kept shaking his head when his supervisor insisted they "look more into this satan-worshipping-pinko-commie-hippie-website".
  • by richie2000 (159732) <rickard.olsson@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:50AM (#13871268) Homepage Journal
    I say, give the damned seal his fish ration and be done with it.
  • by jayhawk88 (160512) <jayhawk88@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:52AM (#13871287)
    When dealing with a satirical website, you want to give them ammunition and a reason to use it.

    Alert your friends: The Onion might actually start getting funny again.
  • by Improv (2467) <pgunn@dachte.org> on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:54AM (#13871303) Homepage Journal
    There's something to be said for reserving one's stamp of authenticity, whether it be a signature or not, for things that are actually from one. It seems unnecessary and precisely akin to protecting one's signature from appearing on material that pokes fun at oneself -- there's nothing funny about the seal itself, and it would not change the humour to replace that seal with a mock seal. Parody should be seen to be a nearly blank check when it comes to making fun of the attributes of someone or something, and in my opinion, traditional intellectual property law totally sucks, but protecting one's sigil/signature is a reasonable thing to do.

    Obviously, this is not forgery with an intent to fool, but like posting unaltered dollar bill photographs on a website, it's at least uncool and asking for trouble.
  • The Onion (Score:5, Funny)

    by siwelwerd (869956) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:55AM (#13871312)
    Is it just me, or did that article read like something printed by... I don't know, The Onion?
  • by trigeek (662294) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @08:57AM (#13871334)
    Apparently SOMEONE doesn't know that The Onion is satire...

    www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,53048,00.html [wired.com]

  • The Law (Score:4, Informative)

    by max born (739948) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @09:10AM (#13871430)
    Not sure where they're coming from with this. The use of the seal is covered in Tile 4, Chap 2, sec 42 of the US Code [cornell.edu] which reads,

    The Secretary of State shall have the custody and charge of such seal. Except as provided by section 2902 (a) of title 5, the seal shall not be affixed to any instrument without the special warrant of the President therefor.

    The Onion is obvioulsy a parady which is surely covered by the First Amendment. This is basically a sacred-symbol-protection law which didn't work for flag burning and probably won't for the seal. Be interesting to hear what the courts have to say.
  • by deanj (519759) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @09:19AM (#13871505)
    What's new about this? This law has been on the books for years:

    http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/casecode/uscodes/18/ parts/i/chapters/33/sections/section_713.html [findlaw.com]
  • by amcdiarmid (856796) <amcdiarm@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @09:21AM (#13871520) Journal
    Dear mi fellow Mericans.

    Recently, mi staff have informed me about a grave misuse of a seal. Apparently, this website, The Onion, is misusing the Presidential Seal of the United States of Merica. Now, I have not seen this seal - and I hope it's doing well, with all those hurricanes in Florida and whatnot, but to misuse a seal? Now that's nnanimal cruelty.

    Now, I have talked to all my friends at Hallyburton about this, and we agree. Seals should be clubbed as babies to be used as coats. If the Seals are not going to be used as coats, they should be allowed to live out their natural lives at Seaworld and the like. You know, preforming tricks for the kids. Ya gotta member the children, they're our most precious resource. But I digress.

    This website, The Onion, is misusing the Presidential Seal and it's got to stop. Our staff has sent a letter to The Onion, and they just made fun of us. How terrble is that? Even worse, some people have suggested that the seal be changed at The Onion. That's not good. How would you like it if we changed you?

    Anyways, seals are great creatures. Make good coats, preform tricks for kids. Kids important. Onion misusing seals. Onion's bad, make kids cry. Now go out there and tell those bad liberals at The Onion to stop misusing seals and making kids cry.

    Good night, and God Bless you.
    Yer President
  • by earthforce_1 (454968) <earthforce_1 AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @09:37AM (#13871674) Journal
    When people went looking for pictures from the Mars Pathfinder project, many instinctively to nasa.com instead of nasa.gov

    At the time, nasa.com was a porn site, so visitors got quite an eyeful. The real NASA invoked some government edict from the 1960s that stated the acronymn NASA was reserved for use by their agency, and were able to unseat them. Yet when I go to nasa.com today, I find some sort of private detective agency, I am not sure what happened in the meantime...

  • by ZachPruckowski (918562) <zachary.pruckowski@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @09:45AM (#13871742)
    NEWS FLASH: Onion countersues White House for "stealing all the good jokes". Joe Jones, an Onion spokesman, was quoted as saying "They're running us into the ground. How can we make jokes about the White House, when they haven't said something non-humorous in weeks? Harriet Miers as "qualified"? They stole our front page story!!"
  • hypocrisy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sacrilicious (316896) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @09:48AM (#13871768) Homepage
    Article:
    O.K. But just between us, Mr. Duffy, how did they find out about it? "Despite the seriousness of the Bush White House, more than one Bush staffer reads The Onion and enjoys it thoroughly," he said. "We do have a sense of humor, believe it or not."
    Um, no you don't. You're hassling the f'ing ONION about using the logo. SenseOfHumor Meter reading: zero.
  • Thin Skinned (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ranger (1783) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @09:53AM (#13871804) Homepage
    Here is the standalone version of the site Weekly Radio Address [weeklyradioaddress.com]. Not once during the Clinton administration did they send a cease and desist letter to the parodies aired on the Rush Limbaugh show. Looks like The Onion isn't the only thing that's thin skinned. [washingtonpost.com]
  • I can't wait..... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 8127972 (73495) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @12:14PM (#13873008)
    ..... for the Bush administration to sue The Daily Show. After everybody knows that that show is only kidding.....

    Oh wait.
  • by sckeener (137243) on Tuesday October 25, 2005 @12:29PM (#13873143)
    below is a story from one of my GMs in the past....at one point he ran a vampire LARP game where some of the players were FBI agents....hence where this story is going...here's the email unedited:
    __________________________________________________ ___________
    My "It would be funny but it happened to me too" story:

    I was driving through South Dakota when I was pulled over for having a headlight out. This was about a year ago, and the police were still worked up about that little Sept 11 thingy.

    A little background first: I have a bad habit of not throwing anything away, and happened to be playing/running a Live action vampire game when I lived in Houston. Certain Individuals and I created some items as "Props"
    that looked pretty authentic, especially to the untrained eye. If the individual in question wants to tell ya what we made he can do it. The only hint I'll give is that they definitly looked official.

    So, anyways, I got pulled over by this SD state trooper, K-9 no less. My hair was about 2 feet long, shaved on the sides and back, pulled into a pony-tail. I was wearing my "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke -- God"
    shirt. Ratty assed blue jeans, with a pile of trash in my backseat. He takes one look at me and says, "Sir, I am going to need you to step out of the vehicle."

    Well, like I said, I used to live in Houston. So, I unbuckeled my seatbelt and put my windows up (Second nature when I get out of my car). In one fluid motion, I took my keys out of the ignition, locked the door and slammed it shut. As I did this he yelled at me to "leave the car running and the doors unlocked." After slamming the door shut, he told me to unlock it. Being the good subversive asshole I am, I said, "Nope."

    Then he asked if I had any weapons on me, luckily I had already taken my pocket knife outta my pocket to open a bag of beef jerky and it had fallen on the passenger side floor. I said no, and he told me to empty my pockets.
    Seems I had a weapon after all, fingernail clippers, in my pocket. Then he asked me to step into his SUV.

    As soon as I got in, his dog went apeshit and he asked, "Do you have any contraband in your vehicle?" To which I replied, "What do you mean by contraband?" Chalk one up to being either stupid or an asshole who really had no plans to get home that evening. He explained, "Drugs, Weapons, other illegeal things." My smartassed reply, "Do you mean illegeal in the state of South Dakota, or just plain illegeal." Then he asked, "May I search your car?" I figured that I am already fucked right now, so I say, "Hell no."

    We sat in silence for about 20 minutes, then he got out with the dog and had it sniff the car. He got back in and asked, "Where are you headed?" My reply of "Home" didn't seem to improve our relations much. Then he asked, "Where is your home?" To which I said, "South."
    "Where were you comming from?"
    "The east."

    About 20 more minutes of silence. Then, "Can I search your vehicle?"
    "Nope, Am I being detained?"
    "Uh, no sir."

    This went on for about 3 hours, eventually I was able to spot the in vehicle camera and noted that it was still recording. So he asked to search again.
    Finally I capitulated! I said extremely clearly and loud, "Since I have now been detained against my will for 3 hours and I am very tired, I will, under duress, consent to an illeagle search of my car at this time." Then he asked me for my keys, and I told him they were on the trunk. He was a little pissed as he took the dog outta the SUV.

    He tore the hell outta my vehicle, finding the item in question along with several wanted posters from a certain federal agency. Sadly these posters had my pic on them and Zeds pic too. *sigh* So this cop calls in the, according to him, "Forged items".

    I explain to him back in the SUV that I did not attempt to impersonate anyone, nor did I identify myself as belonging to any organization. He said I was going to jail. I asked to sp

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