While the Shepard Fairey–AP showdown was busy raising the public-domain bar, a new case concerning intellectual property recently cropped up on the Internet. This one pits David Rees and his defunct Get Your War On (GYWO) comic strip against national smoothie giant Jamba Juice.
In the California-based restaurant's new online ad campaign, entitled "Summer Bliss," clip-art office-drone characters make "witty" comments about their work environment, as well as about Jamba Juice's newest lunch special.
The characters bear more than a casual resemblance to the ones who populated GYWO, Rees's edgy, non-juice-affiliated political cartoon. (In January, Rees lived up to his promise to stop doing the strip the day George W. Bush left office.) The Juice team certainly appears to be borrowing heavily from Rees's playbook: everything from the choice of a specific brand of famed illustrator Tom Tierney–created characters to the style of each individual word bubble is clearly indebted to GYWO. The problem for the aggrieved Rees, legally speaking, is that both his handicraft and that of the Jamba Juice campaign use public-domain clip art.
Rees was initially alerted to the situation by GYWO admirers. "Some fans e-mailed me a link to the site," says Rees in an e-mail. "I was struck by its similarity to GYWO. I thought, 'I hope nobody thinks I was involved in making this online ad.' "
Rees, who started making clip-art comics while temping at Tufts in 1999, has taken to the Internet to ensure people know that he is not on the juice. Last month, Rees launched "Jamba Juice Week" — a comedic crusade against the company featuring the banner slogan "Juice Sucks, Drink Wine" — on his Web site (mnftiu.cc). Humorist John Hodgman and scads of journalists, bloggers, and readers have joined the fatwa against Jamba.
Rees had originally called for a full boycott of Jamba Juice, but repealed that part of the campaign after a reader complained that it would hurt everyone at the company, including the college students working the register.
In a statement to Fast Company magazine, a Jamba Juice rep wrote that "We understand there has been some misunderstanding about the 'Summer Bliss' campaign artwork and the comic strip created by David Rees due to the use of these clip-art images. Jamba Juice would like to expressly communicate that the Summer Bliss promotion was not intended to imply any affiliation with Mr. Rees, Mr. Rees' endorsement of Jamba Juice and its products, or Jamba Juice's endorsement of Mr. Rees' work."
Rees, meanwhile, feels he's getting the worst of both worlds. "Some people will watch the cartoon and assume I sold out . . . but I didn't sell out, which means I didn't even make any money off the debasement of my good name!"
Rees simply wants the cartoon taken offline or some sort of disclaimer mentioning the lack of an affiliation between Jamba and GYWO. But could a court case be in order? While some attorneys have contacted Rees to tell him his complaint is valid, Rees himself isn't looking for the courts to solve his problem. That is, unless the highest court in the land has his ear: "I will only take legal action if someone can guarantee we will wind up in front of the Supreme Court," he promises. I want to go down in history as the plaintiff in Get Your War On v. Jamba Juice, because that's the coolest case name ever."