Critics of the Memphis Police Department (MPD) can now wear their opinions on T-shirts that read, "Blue Crush: Displacing Crime, One Block at a Time" and "Real Time Crime Center: More Efficient at Doing Nothing."
Earlier this year, the MPD filed a lawsuit against an anonymous blogger, alleging a trademark violation over Blue Crush parody T-shirts and bumper stickers being sold on the MPD Enforcer blog. The blog has long been critical of the department and MPD director Larry Godwin.
The suit, filed by the city in May and withdrawn in September, alleged that "Dirk Diggler," the handle used by the author of mpdenforcer20.blogspot.com, used the blog "to misappropriate the image, likeness, and name of Director Godwin and the City of Memphis' Blue Crush trademarks."
It also claimed that Diggler endangered the life of an undercover officer by posting a picture of the officer on the blog. The photo was later removed from the site.
In July, the city sent a letter to Zazzle.com, an online T-shirt printer, asking them not to print shirts with the Blue Crush logo or Godwin's likeness.
"We communicated with Zazzle, and they were persuaded that there was no trademark violation," said Paul Alan Levy, an attorney with the Washington-based Public Citizen Litigation Group who represented Diggler in the case. "Now the stuff is back up."
The shirts, which have been viewable in an advertising box on the blog for a little over a month, feature "Blue Crush" written in blue in a font different from the one the MPD uses. Levy says the MPD's trademark rights to the phrase are questionable since their uses are non-commercial.
"The FBI is not a trademarked name because it's used for a government agency, and I think the same would be true for Blue Crush," Levy said. "But it's plainly a fair-use issue here. It's used as commentary, not for purposes of confusing people about whether the MPD is author of this thing."
Attorney David Bearman, who represented the city in the case, referred all questions to Mayor W.W. Herenton's assistant Toni Holman-Turner. Asked why the city withdrew its lawsuit, Holman-Turner would not discuss the trademark issue.
"Our main concern was to have the picture of the [undercover] officer removed," Holman-Turner said.
Holman-Turner was also unable to provide information on how much money the city spent during the three months of litigation against the blogger.
"I think the city ended up being embarrassed by the whole thing," Levy said. "They got slammed in the press and they knew they'd be slammed in court if they litigated [it]."