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Hogan takes down ad with Pinocchio image

The campaign of Republican gubernatorial nominee Larry Hogan has taken down an advertisement that compared Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown to Pinocchio because it included a copyrighted image from the Walt Disney Co. without permission.
The campaign of Republican gubernatorial nominee Larry Hogan has taken down an advertisement that compared Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown to Pinocchio because it included a copyrighted image from the Walt Disney Co. without permission. (Handout)

The campaign of Republican gubernatorial nominee Larry Hogan has taken down an advertisement that compared Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown to Pinocchio because it included a copyrighted image from the Walt Disney Co. without permission.

The advertisement, which appeared on the Hogan campaign's Facebook page, juxtaposed a cartoon still of a long-nosed Pinocchio from the 1940 animated Disney film with an unflattering photo of Brown, the Democratic nominee for governor.

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"What do Anthony Brown and Pinocchio have in common? They both lie to get what they want," the text read.

The ad was posted to Hogan's website under his own name on Sept. 2. It was used again by the Hogan campaign affiliate Change Maryland as recently as Tuesday.

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A spokesman for Disney, contacted by The Baltimore Sun, said the company had not given the Hogan campaign permission to use the image.

Both ads were removed shortly after The Sun contacted the campaign about the matter.

Hogan spokesman Adam Dubitsky said its use had been a "mistake."

"This slipped by. We'll take it down and that'll be it," he said.

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Hogan held a news conference Thursday morning to accuse Brown of lying in his campaign ads. After the news conference, Dubitsky said he didn't know whether the Pinocchio ad was created by the campaign or by an outside agency. He said he didn't know who posted the ad to Hogan's Facebook page, but said the candidate does not manage the page himself.

Dubitsky said the campaign had not heard anything from Disney about its use of the image. He said he did not know whether the campaign would offer to compensate the company.

Jared DeMarinis, chief of campaign finance at the Maryland State Board of Elections, said if a company allows a campaign to use an image for which it would normally charge a licensing fee, it would be considered an in-kind contribution that must be listed on a campaign finance report. But how that would affect an unauthorized use would depend on the specific facts, he said.

Disney spokesman David J. Jefferson did not return messages asking what steps the company might take to protect its intellectual property rights in this case. The company asserts on its website that it "takes the enforcement of these rights very seriously."

Will Hubbard, a law professor at the University of Baltimore who specializes in intellectual property, said fair-use law allows for the appropriation of copyrighted material without permission in some cases, such as news coverage or parody.

But after he saw the Pinocchio ad, Hubbard said the Hogan campaign made the right move in dropping it.

"This would have been a weak fair-use case," he said.

On Wednesday, the Maryland Republican Party stopped using the Baltimore Ravens logo in its advertising for a fundraiser after the team said the party had not sought its OK.

Joe Cluster, the state party's executive director, said he had not considered trademark and copyright issues before using the logos and took the blame for the mistake.

Brown's campaign said the unauthorized use of copyrighted images were not simple mistakes.

"From misusing a beloved childhood Disney character to violating the Ravens trademark, this is the second time in two days Larry Hogan and the Republicans have been caught ignoring the law and breaking the rules," said campaign manager Justin Schall.

Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary's College, said Hogan's campaign staff should have known better than to use a copyrighted image in an ad when there are many depictions of Pinocchio in the public domain.

Eberly said the Hogan error — as well as the use of the Ravens logo by the party — reflect a longtime organizational weakness in the state GOP, long the minority party in Maryland.

"He's in this situation where it's a campaign run by people who are considerably less experienced than the folks running the Brown campaign," Eberly said.

Richard Vatz, a professor of rhetoric and communication at Towson University and a supporter of Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., saw another problem. He said the "off-putting" Pinocchio ad fell short of the standard set by earlier Hogan messages.

Vatz said that an earlier ad criticizing Brown as "just not ready to be governor" was entirely appropriate in tone and content, but the Pinocchio ad was "beneath Larry Hogan" and seemed to be "tastelessly ridiculing" Brown.

"The contrast must mean that [Hogan] has responsible and irresponsible advisers," Vatz said.

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