Former President Donald Trump is making a small fortune off campaign merchandise featuring his now famous mugshot from Fulton County, Georgia, but he may have just made some additional trouble for himself at a time when he’s already facing a tidal wave of indictments and legal cases.
As reported by the New York Post, Trump may be in violation of U.S. copyright laws after putting his mugshot on campaign merchandise and selling it, raising millions:
The Republican front-runner’s campaign wasted no time capitalizing off the mugshot made of him at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, featuring the former president scowling into the camera.
Merchandise emblazoned with the historic photo and the slogan “Never surrender” was quickly hawked for between $12 and $34. Within just three days, the Trump campaign made $7.1 million off the merch, which included T-shirts, mugs, koozies, and bumper stickers.
However, legal scholars said that the photo copyright likely belongs to Fulton County since officials there took it; U.S. copyright law stipulates that the police agency that takes the photo is the rightful owner of it.
“In the context of photographs taken by law enforcement during the booking process, the author of the mugshot photograph is the law enforcement agency,” says the 2022 University of Georgia School of Law’s Journal of Intellectual Property Law.
Because of that, Betsy Rosenblatt, a professor at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Law, there are limits to what people can do with mugshots.
“You’re prohibited from using it for a number of things without authorization,” she told Spectrum News 1 Ohio.
“You’re prohibited from reproducing it, making a derivative work of it, distributing it without authorization, or that is to say distributing anything that isn’t the one copy you already lawfully have, and various other things. Making a public display of it, making a public performance of it, which opens up all kinds of fascinating possibilities here.”
MSNBC’s Dean Obeidallah said that Trump also did not alter the mugshot in any meaningful way in order to create something new.
The Trump campaign appeared to be aware of the copyright provisions.
Chris LaCivita, one of Trump’s top advisers, tweeted on Aug. 24: “If you are a campaign, PAC, scammer and you [are] try raising money off the mugshot of @realDonaldTrump and you have not received prior permission …WE ARE COMING AFTER YOU you will NOT SCAM DONORS.”
Ultimately, it will be up to the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department to decide whether to file suit against the Trump campaign, however.
The department may decide it is “not going to undertake the expense and trouble of hiring copyright counsel and sending out takedowns and cease-and-desist letters, or in lawsuits,” Rosenblatt said.
But, The Post reported, citing MSNBC, “the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office may decide the millions made off the photo rightfully belongs to it — at a time when it is in desperate need of funds to address the horrific conditions at the Fulton County Jail.”
Trump was already leading the crowded 2024 Republican presidential field, but he surged even higher after the arrest.
In fact, according to a new Wall Street Journal survey, the indictments have had the opposite effect. The poll, conducted Aug. 24 to Aug. 30 and published Sept. 2, found that 59 percent of GOP primary voters say he is their top choice.
“The new survey finds that what was once a two-man race for the nomination has collapsed into a lopsided contest,” with Trump surging to a commanding lead, the outlet noted, citing its poll.
The outlet conducted a similar survey in April. The new poll found that Trump has nearly doubled his lead over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the months since, climbing 11 points. The difference between the two candidates now is 46 points, The Epoch Times reported, citing the results.