Tamarac, a sprawling South Florida suburb, is not all that special. For starters, the city's name doesn't come from a special natural wonder like a lake or, as it was long rumored, a nearby Native American tribe. No, the city was simply named for a local car wash called Caramat. "Tamarac" is just "Caramat" spelled
So what's there to do for fun when running a pointless, oddly shaped Florida town that doesn't contain any beach or ocean? How about wasting taxpayer money on frivolous legal letters to small, independent bloggers who make fun of you?
Last month, independent blogger (and human limerick) Sharon Aron Baron, who runs the blog Tamarac Talk, wrote a short post encouraging Tamarac residents to run for mayor in 2018. The post, titled "It's Good to Be the King When You're the Mayor of Tamarac," detailed various ways in which Baron thought Mayor Harry Dressler may or may not have been doing a poor job as the city's leader. The post included a photo of the city's unremarkable logo with Burger King's King mascot superimposed.
That image apparently enraged someone at the city so deeply that the city's attorney, Julie F. Klahr, got involved, sending Baron a cease-and-desist letter demanding that she
"This letter shall serve as formal notice to you to immediately cease and desist from such continued unauthorized use of the City of Tamarac's trademarked logo on your website," the letter reads. (Baron posted a copy of the full letter on her website.)
"PLEASE GOVERN YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY," the letter shouts.
The threats, of course, are bogus. In publishing the image, Baron was clearly exercising her fair-use rights, which state that Americans can use copyrighted material without a person's permission provided that the image is used for a few specific things. One of those uses includes parody — and the courts have broadly defended publishers' rights to make fun of people. It's how TV shows such as Saturday Night Live can make fake commercials for 40 years without getting sued.
Plus, it's not clear the city attorney even fully understands the laws she cited in the cease-and-desist letter. The city claims Baron violated Florida Statute 495.131, which governs copyright infringement. But that statute only says that reproductions "likely to cause confusion, to cause mistake, or to deceive" are illegal. And that's only in instances where those images are being used for sales or advertising. Is the City of Tamarac really worried its residents will be deceived into thinking the official city logo includes the Burger King mascot?
The letter also claims Baron violated Section 3.01 of the city charter — except that section of the city rulebook simply says the city will have a seal, and it isn't even clear that a private citizen could possibly violate that portion of the law. (In fact, it's not even clear if the logo in question is actually the city's seal according to Tamarac's own charter, either.)
This isn't the first time a South Florida city has gotten petty about its logo: Miami-Dade threatened to sue blogger Sef Gonzalez, who runs the Miami food website Burger Beast in 2011. That site was using a logo that parodied Miami-Dade County's official "sled" logo. (It's been seven years, and Dade has still not explained why its county logo is a snow sled.)
Reached by phone, Baron says she has retained a lawyer and is drafting a response to the city.
"I'm not too worried at this time," she says. "I just feel bad for the citizens of Tamarac, who have to see their leaders acting like this."
In her blog post, Baron wrote that she believes the fast-food-related Photoshop job constituted parody. She also mentioned that other elected officials in Broward County, including the nearby town of Coral Springs, were totally cool with getting Photoshopped into an April Fools' Day article last year, which joked that Coral Springs was annexing nearby Parkland. That gag actually caused residents to call the Coral Springs mayor — but that city never threatened to sue Baron.
A spokesperson for the City of Tamarac, meanwhile, tells New Times that the city sent the letter because its "trademark had been violated." Asked if the city understood what the term "fair use" meant, the spokesperson referred New Times to Klahr, the city attorney. (She did not respond to an email.)
Of course, we're certain the City of Tamarac's lawsuit has nothing to do with Tamarac Talk's recent criticism of the city. Baron has had other clashes with residents over her site: A homeowners' association threatened to sue her in 2013. The rest of Tamarac Talk mostly deals with the classic Florida-gadfly fare of real-estate deals, political sausage-making, and insults hurled at the mayor.
In solidarity, New Times has provided its own parodies of the City of Tamarac logo, which readers are free to download, distribute, and modify however they choose:
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