'Sanctions are coming': HBO is latest to call out Trump's use of slogan, songs

HBO is the latest to levy criticism at Donald Trump for his use of slogans and music for political purposes.

Network slams president for meme and prefers 'trademark not be misappropriated for political purposes'

After U.S. President Donald Trump posted a meme with a play on a Game of Thrones slogan, HBO said it prefers its 'trademark not be misappropriated for political purposes.' (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

HBO is the latest to levy criticism at U.S. President Donald Trump for his use of particular slogans and music for political purposes, but that doesn't mean it will be taken further.

The network responded yesterday after Trump posted a meme with the words "Sanctions are coming," an obvious nod to the famous Game of Thrones catchphrase, "Winter is coming."

The photo, apparently referring to U.S sanctions against Iran, included a picture of the president with the popular fantasy series' signature font and gloomy-looking backdrop.

"We were not aware of this messaging and would prefer our trademark not be misappropriated for political purposes," HBO said in a statement sent to reporters yesterday.

A tweet posted by the company on Friday said: "How do you say trademark misuse in Dothraki?" Dothraki is a made-up language used on the show.

"They might try to criticize it but in normal circumstances, these types of issues are dealt with in cease-and-desist letters," said Los Angeles-based trademark lawyer Doron F. Eghbali, commenting generally on the topic.

A representative for HBO told CNBC there would be no further steps taken.

Stop the music

Earlier this week, a cease-and-desist letter was issued on behalf of musician Pharrell Williams, who slammed Trump for using his upbeat hit Happy at a campaign rally on the same day as the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

The Grammy-winning artist, who endorsed Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate in 2016, claimed copyright and trademark infringement through his lawyer.

In 2016 before Trump won the presidency, the Rolling Stones demanded the politician stop using their songs, including Start Me Up and You Can't Always Get What You Want, to fire up crowds on the campaign trail. The year before, Aerosmith's lead vocalist Steven Tyler also told the then-presidential hopeful not to play its ballad Dream On.

Adele, Neil Young and R.E.M are among the other musicians who have also protested the use of their songs at Trump rallies over the years. In the case of Neil Young and R.E.M, Trump stopped using their songs according to the Associated Press.

Do artists have the right to say no?

Eghbali, a senior partner with the American business firm Law Advocate Group, LLP, says an artist's cease-and-desist demand in the U.S. depends on whether the singer-songwriter owns the work.

He says if an organization has paid to license the music, the music is fair game unless the organization's use of the song can be proven damaging to the musician.

"Unless there's a court order and unless the [campaign] isn't paying for it, there's not much the artist can do."

In the case of Aerosmith, Tyler's lawyer contended the use of the band's music erroneously implied their endorsement of Trump's candidacy. 

Some licence agreements allow songwriters or publishers to exclude certain songs from the overall blanket licence. A blanket licence is granted by the performing rights organizations ASCAP and BMI for access to all the music in their repertoire.

With files from the Associated Press