Donald Trump Meets Intellectual Property

Donald Trump last week cemented his position as the most bigoted presidential candidate since George Wallace.  And it was perhaps because of that issue that Mr. Trump decided to demonstrate on social media how much he is loved by minorities.  For that reason, Mr. Trump retweeted a post that featured a photograph of an African-American family with a caption saying “American Families for Trump.” 

 There are a couple of problems with the tweet.  First, the family does not support Trump.  And second, the person who tweeted the doctored photo (and by extension the person who retweeted the photo) had no permission to use the photo.  Which means the tweet violated the copyright of the photographer and the right of publicity for the family.   

Now we know Trump has very little regard for the truth.  And civility.  And common courtesy.  But he also has similar disdain for laws protecting intellectual property.  And his blatant disregard for the tells us much about him, but it also illustrates why those laws matter.   

It is fair to assume that someone who saw this particular tweet may think “maybe Trump isn’t as bad as everyone says.  A handsome African-American family is his corner, so maybe he’s not so bad.”  And at least as to this family, that statement would be incorrect.  The right of publicity allows people to control the use of their image.  There are at least three reasons for this.  First, if an advertiser wants to use someone’s photo in an ad, that person is entitled to compensation.  I assume even Trump would agree with this basic concept.   

Second, the person whose photo is going to be used should have a right to say no – separate and apart from the money.  If someone offered me $1 million to use my photo for an “I Love The St. Louis Cardinals” ad campaign I’d say no. I suspect the family in the photo would feel the same way about using their photo for a Trump ad.  They should be given that right.   

Finally, the public has the right to rely on information presented to them.  And a blatantly false Twitter retweet violates the public interest.  Laws protecting  Intellectual Property rights protect against all of the above.   

Had Trump reached out to the family of the photographer before retweeting the bogus photo he may have discovered the truth.  But doing so would have required civility and common courtesy.  As we’ve noted, those are not high priority items for Trump or his campaign.