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Divided US embraces Trump mugshot merchandise

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Trump has for months sought to leverage the criminal probes against him to rally support from his base, starting with his first indictment in New York. His fundraising groups, including his past and current presidential campaigns, have reported investing more than US$98 million in merchandise operations since 2015, buying items like bumper stickers, hoodies and coffee mugs to sell.

Speaking to Reuters after the Republican debate on Wednesday, co-campaign manager Chris LaCivita said his team had been focused on turning the four indictments into a positive, “making sure that we were making lemonade at every opportunity, which I think we did.”

Veterans of other political operations say campaigns can make a 50 per cent profit or more on their merchandise sales and LaCivita on Thursday warned off those trying to make money from the image without the campaign’s permission.

LEGAL RIGHTS?

What legal rights, if any, Trump’s campaign may have over the mugshot’s reproduction are unclear, however. The photo was distributed by the Fulton County court to media outlets, including Reuters.

Mugshots taken by US federal courts are generally in the public domain, although Georgia’s state policy may be different.

Many US states have “right of publicity” laws that prevent the use of a person’s image in commerce without their permission. Federal trademark law also bars false advertising and endorsements, and Trump would also likely be able to sue under other state laws.

But political parody goods may receive some protection from intellectual-property claims under the U.S. Constitution, and attorneys say that whether Trump would actually sue is more of a strategic question than a legal one.

“In all likelihood, given how polarising Trump has been, and everything that is already in the marketplace around his likeness, it would not likely be a legal priority,” trademark attorney Josh Gerben said.

Trump’s pose, glaring into the camera with his face tilted down, echoes his trademark pose in “The Apprentice,” the reality television show he starred in for several years.

The former president told Fox News Digital in an interview Thursday night that he only did the mugshot because Georgia officials insisted. “It is not a comfortable feeling – especially when you’ve done nothing wrong,” he said.

Rick Wilson, a co-founder of the Lincoln Project flogging mugshot wares online, dared Trump’s campaign to sue him in a Friday post on X.

“Trump’s people are certainly viewing it as a powerful image, and his opponents are also viewing it as a powerful image,” he said.

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