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Monday, October 20, 2008

DIY Campaign

by: Nancy Sims, MTTLR Blog Editor

The McCain campaign's visual themes (i.e. the Optimum typeface, his simple star logo) have drawn positive comments for the strength and military experience they convey. But many commentators agree that the Obama "O" logo is a radical political innovation: "probably the only political campaign logo to have a visual theme in it", "[a] true logo, one that is recognizable apart from the candidate's name" and "the first sophisticated corporate-style identity to emerge from presidential politics", "signals by design that Obama has a different message", "perhaps one of the few conceptual logos in the history of presidential elections", "[c]learly not the old standards of years past."A few have pointed out that the Bush 2004 campaign's "W" logo was similarly identifiable, but it did not convey the same level of conceptual information.

The "O" logo has been criticized as derivative of other logos, (although the same criticism has been leveled with similar plausibility at the McCain logo.) For any number of possible reasons (its innovation, its visual impact, its simplicity, basic political demographics) the "O" logo has become a favorite new theme of makers, hackers, crafters and other habitues of the DIY/maker/remix culture. (In an attempt to keep this post politically neutral, I searched extensively for McCain remixes. The closest match I found were these commercially available McCain logo cookies.) Despite plausible copyright and trademark claims to the art and product-identifying use of the logo, unauthorized reinterpretations have rapidly proliferated.

(For all of the following examples, click the thumbnail to see the image in its original context.)

It's popular in food (particularly cookies):

CC-licensed by-nc-sa

CC-licensed by-nc-sa

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Knitters and other textile and fabric crafters have also interpreted the logo:

CC-licensed by-nc-nd

Several artisans have made their own "O" products:

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Finally, a few of the reinterpreted "O" logos defy categorization. They include:
The Penn State S-Zone is transformed into the O-Zone:
CC-licensed by
A bicycle wheel is transformed into a glowing "O":A pregnant supporter displays her own "O" logo:

Additionally, the logo seems clearly a motivating factor for the Barack O-Lanterns of non-campaign-affiliated Yes We Carve and other Obama O'Lanterns.

It is interesting to note all the different claims people are making as to "ownership" of their logo-derivatives. A number of images are Creative Commons licensed, but with varying levels of control asserted (from the very loose "attribution" license, to the more restrictive "attribution-noncommercial-noderivatives" license.) Several of the images on Flickr also display the traditional "all rights reserved" language, but since this is the Flickr default, it doesn't necessarily mean a great deal. The creators of both the necklace and the earrings have their derivative images for sale on craft website Etsy - almost certainly a commercial use, although the necklace maker claims to be donating to the Obama campaign with every sale.

In the midst of an intense political campaign, the Obama camp's interests may, in many ways, be opposite from those of most trademark and copyright owners. It is in the campaign's interest for the mark to be distributed widely. Although using the language of trademarks - the Obama website refers to the "'O' Logomark" - this distinctive image does not appear to have been registered with the PTO (a TESS search for "obama" yielded 38 results, none of which appeared to be for this image.) In fact, they make the image freely downloadable in a variety of formats from the campaign website.

Given the limited utility of the mark once the election is over, there is little incentive for the campaign to police others' uses of the mark, be they positive or negative. Without anyone having directly dedicated the "O" mark to the public domain, it appears to have become de facto public property.

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Blogger mycroft said...

I feel sorry for any future candidate with a last name that begins with 'O'.

October 21, 2008 at 9:37 AM  

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