Three Seattle-based corporations, including The Seattle Times, have asked Tiffany Smiley, the Republican challenger for U.S. Senate, to stop using their copyrighted material in campaign ads, spurring a fiery response from Smiley’s campaign, which filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission.
The Seattle Times, Starbucks and the Seattle Seahawks each, over the past few weeks, has objected to Smiley campaign ads that contain the companies’ corporate logos.
In response, Smiley’s campaign accused The Seattle Times of illegally using corporate resources to support her opponent, Sen. Patty Murray, a five-term Democrat.
Both candidates have raised millions of dollars for a campaign in which Smiley has focused on issues of inflation and crime and said Murray has little to show for her 30 years in office, while Murray has touted Democratic victories on COVID aid, health care and climate and hit Smiley for opposing abortion rights.
Smiley’s campaign lawyers Thursday wrote to the FEC, accusing The Seattle Times of letting Murray use the newspaper’s logo and headlines in ads for her 2016 campaign, while objecting when Smiley did similarly this year.
On Friday, Smiley’s campaign publicized the FEC complaint, and the letters from all three companies.
The Smiley campaign complaint, which notes the newspaper’s editorial board has endorsed Murray, accuses The Seattle Times of “providing something of value” to Murray’s campaign while denying Smiley’s campaign the same.
The editorial board operates separately from the news reporting staff.
Any person can file a complaint with the FEC.
Kati Erwert, a Seattle Times senior vice president, said Friday the company issues “quite a few of these letters in protection of our own copyright.”
Erwert, in an interview, declined to discuss the specific accusations from Smiley’s campaign, but pointed to the company’s policies on use of its logo in political ads.
“As it relates to political advertising, we try to be very cognizant of fair use,” Erwert said. “In this instance specifically, it is using it for an inferred endorsement of her campaign, which violates the policy and is the reason for the cease and desist.”
The Seahawks wrote to the Smiley campaign more than three weeks ago in response to an ad that began airing nearly a month ago in which Smiley’s husband wears a Seahawks jersey.
The team asked for its logos to be removed or blurred.
Smiley’s campaign complied. The version of the ad now posted to the campaign’s YouTube page features a Seahawks-esque jersey, but without any green and with numbers and logos blurred.
The Seattle Times and Starbucks both objected to another Smiley ad that began airing last week, in which she stands in front of an image of a shuttered Starbucks location on Capitol Hill.
Seattle Times headlines about the Starbucks’ closing and about crime increases in the city flash on the screen underneath the newspaper’s logo.
“Use of material from The Seattle Times requires The Seattle Times’ consent,” the newspaper’s resale and permissions department wrote to the Smiley campaign Sept. 21, asking for Seattle Times content to be removed. “Under no circumstances, unless expressly licensed by The Seattle Times, may the content be reproduced or imitated including in advertising material.”
The newspaper followed up with a second letter Thursday, saying it “reserves its rights to take further action.”
Smiley’s campaign responded that the ad’s “extremely limited” use of The Seattle Times logo, coupled with the fact that it’s used for political commentary, is allowed under the Copyright Act’s “fair use” doctrine.
On Sept. 23, Starbucks, in a letter to the campaign, wrote that the ad’s use of the company’s intellectual property — represented by the sign visible on the shuttered store — harms the company and that it does not permit the use of its brand for political advertisements.
Smiley’s campaign shot back in a news release publicizing all three letters.
“Woke corporations thought they could help Patty Murray by BULLYING Tiffany with senseless legal threats,” Kristian Hemphill, Smiley’s campaign manager wrote. “Their efforts have both failed and backfired.”
Murray spokesperson Naomi Savin responded: “Just like Trump, MAGA Republican Tiffany Smiley apparently won’t miss an opportunity to attack Washington state — whether it’s local journalists, businesses or the Seahawks.”