Game of Thrones vs. Trump

Winter is coming — it’s a cold, hard fact, and will be here on December 21.  WINTER IS COMING is also a slogan used in connection with the Game of Thrones series (final season airing in April 2019!).  HBO owns trademark registrations for WINTER IS COMING for a variety of goods.

HBO was displeased last month when Donald Trump tweeted a photo of himself with the words “Sanctions are Coming” – written in a style clearly meant to evoke Game of Thrones – as part of an effort to reinforce a White House announcement that the United States would reimpose sanctions on Iran.

HBO responded to the President with a tweet of its own, and a nod to its show: “How do you say trademark misuse in Dothraki?” HBO also issued the following statement: “We were not aware of this messaging and would prefer our trademark not be misappropriated for political purposes.”

HBO cannot prevent this use — Trump’s tweet is likely political speech protected by the First Amendment and/or parody.  However, HBO’s swift and (partly) humorous response is a good example to brand owners of how to take advantage of the immediacy of social media to manage their trademarks and reputations when they are used by third parties without authorization.