A federal judge has ruled that a “Sorry for Partying” T-shirt featuring the official portrait of Madison Mayor Paul Soglin did not violate a photographer’s copyright.
Madison photographer Michael Kienitz filed a lawsuit in 2012 against apparel company Sconnie Nation and Underground Printing-Wisconsin claiming they infringed on his copyright by using his photograph of Soglin on T-shirts and tank tops made and sold for the Mifflin Street Block Party.
But in an opinion filed Thursday, Judge Stephen Crocker found that the T-shirts — 161 of which were sold — constituted fair use of the photograph, which was taken from the city’s website.
The shirts sport a monochromatic outline of Soglin’s image in neon green, framed on three sides by the words “Sorry For
It was designed to poke fun at what was viewed as the curmudgeonly flip-flopping of Soglin, who was a student protest leader at UW-Madison and city alder when he was arrested at the first Mifflin Street Block Party in 1969. But in recent years he has called for an end to the annual celebration of the end of the university school year because of its excessive alcohol consumption, which in some years has been accompanied by violent crime.
Kienitz, a longtime political supporter of Soglin, objected to the use of his photograph, taken at the mayor’s inauguration, to
criticize, mock, parody or satirize him.
Sconnie Nation and Underground Printing-Wisconsin “employed this photograph for the diametric purposes of sophomoric humor and political critique,” Crocker wrote in his opinion, adding they “used Kienitz’s photograph as raw material to create something entirely new with a different aesthetic, message and meaning.”
Crocker also noted “the garishness of Soglin’s re-colored visage could be viewed as mocking the gravitas and rectitude with which Kienitz’s now-official portrait imbues the mayor.”
Sconnie Nation co-founder Troy Vosseller called the ruling “a win for free speech.”