A group devoted to defeating U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert at the ballot box is auctioning off the logo used by Shooters Grill, the Silt Republican's gun-themed restaurant in Rifle, after a comedian said Boebert's congressional office demanded he take down a parody website filled with unflattering posts about the controversial lawmaker.
Rural Colorado United, a Pueblo-based independent expenditure group that has been campaigning against Boebert since last summer, said it acquired the distinctive, western-themed Shooters Grill logo after discovering earlier this year that Boebert had let the restaurant's state and federal trademarks lapse.
The logo is being sold as an NFT — short for "nonfungible token," unique data stored in a digital ledger known as a blockchain — with bidding open until noon May 14. The trademarked image is currently owned by an individual who has pledged to donate the proceeds to Rural Colorado United, Bri Buentello, a former Democratic state lawmaker and spokeswoman for the group, told Colorado Politics.
The logo of Shooters Grill, a gun-themed restaurant in Rifle, Colo., owned by U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Silt, and her husband, Jayson. Rural…
"It’s pretty hilarious when the consequences of your own actions show up — and it’s pretty on-brand for Boebert that she can’t even be responsible enough to keep up with her restaurant paperwork," Buentello said in a text message.
"How can we possibly expect her to do the basic functions of her job, like read a bill, hold a town hall, or fight for our fair share in DC gridlock?"
The group tweeted Tuesday that it had also picked up rights to the trademarked logo for Shooters Gear, used by the restaurant to advertise T-shirts and other merchandise, and plans to throw that in with the Shooters Grill logo.
Buentello wouldn't speculate how much the logo might go for. Some NFT sales — conducted in cryptocurrency — have made headlines in recent months with eye-popping sums, including $2.9 million for the first tweet sent by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and $500,000 for the photo behind the "Disaster Girl" meme, though the average price appears to have fallen sharply in the last month.
Shooters Grill didn't respond to a request for comment submitted through its website.
After securing the trademark in February, the group tweeted, its organizers had "mostly forgotten about it" until Toby Morton, a Colorado native and onetime contributor to the "South Park" TV show, posted an image of an email online Tuesday and asked legal experts to weigh in.
Hello Lawyers/Smart People - Lauren Boebert wants me to take down https://t.co/zjr5H9soIR. What say you @AriCohn @Popehat @ASFleischman @adamsteinbaugh @Jturk125 @wolmanj @questauthority @mmasnick @KathrynTewson @RichSeviora @thewolflawyer @estockbridge @USConst_Amend_I pic.twitter.com/FgBdXFdaCR— Toby Morton (@tobymorton) May 3, 2021
The email, which said it was from Boebert's press secretary, Jake Settle, claimed a parody website launched by Morton in January "needs to be taken down" because it used photos that "are copyrighted property of the U.S. Federal Government" and Boebert's congressional office.
"Additionally," the email read, "the entire website is a defamatory impersonation, and it goes against relevant terms of service and U.S. law. Please remove immediately or face further action."
The site Morton created — TheLaurenBoebert.com — features a photo included in Boebert's online press kit, the same photo that dominates her congressional page. It also labels her a "QAnon sympathizer" and reproduces tweets sent by Boebert, including one from last summer declaring, "I am the militia."
"This Website is a Parody," Morton's site says, next to links to other, similar sites created by Morton critical of Republicans Matt Gaetz, Ted Cruz and Devin Nunes, the California congressman who lost a court battle last year against Twitter over his complaints about an account that claimed it was operated by Nunes' cow.
Denver-based First Amendment attorney Steve Zansberg, who represents Colorado Politics and other media outlets in the state, said the email calling on Morton to pull down the site doesn't hold up to legal scrutiny.
"[T]he federal government cannot own copyright in any works created by any federal agency or congressional office (such as the official photographs taken for members of Congress)," Zansberg said in an email that included a reference to federal statute.
"Second," he continued, "no human could reasonably mistake the parody website as an actual communication originating from Rep. Boebert’s office or from her personally. Such parody sites are fully protected speech.
"In short, no, she does not have a legal leg upon which her threatened claims can stand."
Boebert's congressional office didn't respond to multiple emails requesting comment.
Mike Masnick, editor of the Techdirt blog, posted a lengthy analysis Monday night after reviewing the original email and concluding it appeared to have come from Settle.
While the email was a "mess of confusing concepts" that might have a legal claim "buried in here" about some of the material on Morton's site, Masnick wrote, the "threat is stupid."
"All this has served to do is to Streisand a parody site that likely wasn't receiving much if any traffic prior to this," Masnick wrote, referring to the "Streisand effect," which happens when attempts to suppress information winds up drawing far more attention to it.
Masnick added that Morton told him his Boebert site hadn't gotten much traffic before Monday's controversy "but now tons of people are looking at it."
"At best," Masnick wrote, "Boebert comes off looking like a thin-skinned insecure whiner who can't take a mild parody. At worst, she comes off as a censorial bully who has no respect for 'freedom' if it's associated with the 1st Amendment."