Wouldn’t That Blow Your Dress Up? English Translation = Are You Kidding Me?

Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very;” your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.  ~Mark Twain

By: Stacey Purcell

  A very interesting thing happened this week in the writing world. I’m interested because I’m from Texas, love Texas, am proud of Texas and think it’s one of the best places in the world. I’m also interested because the author it affected lives in Texas and happens to be a friend of mine.

Christie Craig is a wonderful bestselling author and has just released a book called Don’t Mess With Texas. It’s a fun, sexy, sassy romp and is off to a good start. So, what’s the problem?

The Texas Department of Transportation is suing her, Hatchette, and Barnes and Noble for using their trademarked slogan. Not only are they suing the above, but they want to place a restraining order to have the 35,000 books that are printed to be pulled from the distributors, all the books destroyed and new ones could then be issued with a different title. Yesterday, a spokesperson for TxDot said that she couldn’t comment on this case, but that they had won a similar one in the past.

“I hope to be kicked to death by grasshoppers if it ain’t the truth.” Texas Saying

(English translation = I’m not lying.)

Let’s look at the facts. The slogan “Don’t Mess With Texas” is trademarked. No one can claim otherwise. It was created by Tim Mclure back in the 1980’s as an anti littering campaign. Super stars like Stevie Ray Vaughan did public service announcements playing his guitar and using those words. From that moment on, it spread like wildfire. Popular, doesn’t come close to describing the ads. It even dropped the amount of litter by 72% within the first four years!

Over the next thirty years, we’ve seen it on anything that could be printed on- t-shirts, mugs, key chains, underwear, banners, etc. It has become a part of our language and has been used in many different ways. In short, the people have taken ownership of this brilliant slogan and made it their own.

Who else has dared to use these famous words? Bobby Flay used it on The Food Network when he titled a dish Don’t Mess With Texas BBQ. Many different politicians have used it as part of their campaigns and there’s even an article about Texas lawsuit reform, with this title, instructing us that Governor Rick Perry created a law against frivolous law suits. (Juicy tidbit of irony!)  

So why Christie Craig?

TxDot’s suit states, “The book contains numerous graphic references to sexual acts, states of sexual arousal, etc. Since Barnes and Noble sells many TxDot materials with the slogan on them, having a book with that title would cause irreparable harm.” Apparently, if it’s for BBQ, campaigns or law reform then it’s OK, but throw in some sex and it’s taboo! What are they afraid of? Someone might think TxDot wrote a romance? Someone might think Christie’s book is about picking up litter?

My personal opinion is that this is a senseless use of the taxpayers’ money. Our highways are in desperate need of repair and the government is cutting back everywhere. Is this really the best use of our resources? I could give you a legal argument about dilution and confusion of the trademarked slogan, but I don’t have to.

Today, a federal judge, Judge Sam Sparks, denied the request for a restraining order. He cited the First Amendment and that the loss of revenue for the defendants, if they are prevented from selling the book, was too great. He also found that trademark registrations don’t apply to books and titles. Way to go, Judge Sparks!

Stay tuned for further developments………

20 Responses to Wouldn’t That Blow Your Dress Up? English Translation = Are You Kidding Me?

  1. William says:

    I was happy to hear about Judge Sparks decision, but I firmly believe this was a ‘have to’ action on the part of TxDOT to establish a record of protecting themselves. Say in the future, someone does something really outlandish with the phrase (I have no idea what that might be, use your own imaginations), but from a legal standpoint, if they didn’t at least file against CC, the future case could hinge upon something like, “Well, TxDOT, an author used the phrase as a title for her novel, and you did *nothing* about that, but now you are suing MY client for (whatever they did).”

    The whole Intellectual Property Protection stuff has gotten way out of hand, but from a legal standpoint, it has to be this way. I don’t see this particular action going very far, and Judge Sparks’ decision will carry a lot of weight along the way, but this is the process that has to be followed.

    The only real issue I have with it all is calling Christie’s writing ‘porn’. That one is WAY out of line.

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  2. jbrayweber says:

    Very good point, William.

    I’m not at all surprised by TxDot fussing over the title. It IS a big slogan for Texas. Every Texan knows it and people driving through Texas will know it, too.

    But CC’s DMWT is not porn. That’s just plain stupid. I’m willing to bet some of these folks wanting to call her romantic comedy (*gasp*with sex scenes!!) is porn has a cache of porn sites they visit on their PC’s regularly. Just sayin’ 🙂

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  3. Susan M says:

    The judge also cited the law when he stated that trademark regestrations don’t apply to books. A fact I’m willing to put money on that Christie, her publishers, AND Tx Dot knew before the injunction was filed. If two guys named Ben and Jerry want to open a lawnmower repair shop, the ice cream giant can’t stop them because no one would confuse the two businesses.

    I understand that the state wants to protect their trademark,but they’ve had this same type of case dismissed before and they filed anyway. That’s what makes me angry. Dispite the findings in law, the state may continue with the lawsuit simply to deter others from leagly using the phrase.

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  4. Laurie Fraser says:

    Wouldn’t it be great for Christie if the AP Wire found this and took off running? Especially the irony over frivolous lawsuits. Every single one of those 35,000 books would be sold immediately.

    I understand why, legally, TxDot feels the need to do this. But I think I’m missing something from William’s and Jenn’s posts about the reference to porn. Sexually graphic, yes, porn, no. Was it in the actual filing by TxDot? Either way, there is a huge difference in perception of porn and sexually graphic literary scenes. And let’s face it, C.C. does write explicit love scenes (amazing and funny as they are!). Maybe TxDot is afraid that their anti-litter campaign will suffer due to the comparison. Either way, this does come across as a stupid lawsuit and a waste of our tax dollars.

    And Jenn, I’m betting that those folks don’t have porn on their computers but their signatures are on petitions to ban books like Tom Sawyer and Harry Potter from libraries and school reading lists!

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  5. Lucy says:

    check your paper. She won a major victory!!! ruling came out yesterday afternoon. Here’s the link.
    http://www.bizjournals.com/houston/news/2011/08/24/judge-author-can-mess-with-texas.html
    So glad you posted this. Its come up in our group several times and everyone is always asking what’s a trademark and what’s not.

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  6. Hi William- I totally understand your position here about using a trademarked slogan and I totally agree with you saying they were way out of line saying it was soft porn!!!
    My problem with this action is that it is not universally carried out. If you are going to go after one, then you must go after all of them. Bobby Flay would be a prime target as would Governor Rick Perry who used it as part of his campaign. Seems not very fair to me… Also there are legal arguments concerning this that have to do with dilution of the brand and confusion of the use of the brand- neither of which could be used here.
    It’s a tricky slippery slope and I don’t know what the right answer is, but I think it’s one that we all need to pay attention to.

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  7. HAHAHAHA You have a way of cutting right to the core, Jenn!! They stepped over the line in calling her book “soft porn”. Oh grow up! People have sex, it’s part of being human and romance is all about being human- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

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  8. Hear hear, Susan! Titles do have a special “pass” when it comes to the law. I highly doubt anyone will confuse Christy’s book with the anti litter campaign created over 30 years ago.
    I say again- if they are going to go after one, then they have to go after the hundreds of other things I found on the internet that used the slogan in their titles. The funniest being the name of the article talking about knocking out frivolous lawsuits. Now, THAT was funny.

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  9. Hi Laurie- Thanks for stopping by today!
    Confusion and dilution are the 2 main grounds that judges look at when they have a trademark case. (At least, that’s my understanding, and I’m NOT a lawyer!) Based on that, I don’t think they have a strong case. Like I said to William, it is a slippery slope and we do want to protect intellectual property….I’m not sure what the big overall answer is, but this just doesn’t seem to fit the bill.

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  10. Kristen says:

    She should have gone with “What happens in Texas…” hehehehe

    But seriously, you can’t be surprised at this kind of thing when Pat Reilly was able to trademark the word “Threepeat”.

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  11. No, you’re right- for the most part I can’t be surprised by this kind of thing. The exception here is that this slogan is used hundreds of times by many different entities in many different ways. Over the years the people have incorporated it into their vernacular and used it in ways the creator probably never imagined. With so many other things out there I ask the question- Why Christy Craig?

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  12. Ruth Kenjura says:

    After thinking about this a bit, I have come to the conclusion it’s all about money. TxDot gets paid for the use of it’s slogan, so I think they just want their piece of the pie. I could be wrong, and it is just an opinion. I won’t even comment on the prudish attitudes of the lawyers in writing up the lawsuit. But I wonder if the Judge made them read it aloud in the courtroom.

    Ruth

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  13. Still shaking my head over this one.
    As a Texan, born and raised, I take pride in my state and just about everything “Texas”, including romance novels and the “Texans” who write them.
    This lawsuit really “gets my goat”…. oh, another popular saying from way back when.
    Maybe if people “made love and not war”– oh wait, that was a “slogan” back in the day concerning Vietnam.
    Who should I ask for permission to use it? Ridiculous right? Not if TxDOT has their way.
    Pretty soon everything would be owned; slogans, catchy words, heck even ideas are already fair game if it makes somebody in an important position money.
    I, for one, am not afraid of this romance title hurting TxDOT or its reputation… their highways speak for themselves.
    Good Luck, Christie. I sincerely hope somebody “socks it to ’em” and upholds the judges decision. 🙂
    Great post, Stacey!

    Like

  14. Robin Yaklin says:

    Love the damn (very) good advice from Mark Twain! Thanks for that and damn (very) good luck to Christie. Me thinks, she will get some damn good publicity. I want to check out the book to see about the controversy.

    Like

  15. Wow, so silly. I’m glad to see in the comments that things worked out for her.
    Sheesh.

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