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PunditFact and PolitiFact have recently checked the history and facts surrounding the Confederate flag flying outside the South Carolina statehouse. PunditFact has also looked into the extent to which retailers are prohibiting the sale of Confederate flag merchandise.
Now, in the latest line of Confederate flag related news, comes another claim from Newswatch33 that has caught the attention of a variety of other media sources.
The headline to the Newswatch33 article claims that Jay-Z and Beyonce are attempting to purchase the rights to the Confederate flag. With various websites alternately posting this claim as either fiction or reality, PunditFact decided to take a closer look.
According to Newswatch33, the Carters want to purchase the resell rights to the Confederate flag for close to $280 million. This means that anyone who would want to sell merchandise with the flag’s image would have to request permission from the couple or risk a lawsuit. The article includes a quote by a person identified as the couple’s attorney, Ralph Hammerstein, in connection to the matter.
Is there any truth to this?
The short answer is no. It’s a well-conceived hoax.
Can someone even buy the rights to the Confederate flag?
Newswatch33 is masking as a real news source. Its own disclaimer says that relying on the "accuracy (or) reliability" of the website information is at users’ "own risk."
Some of the other articles published by Newswatch33 have already been proven to be bogus.
WPDE.com, a website powered by ABC 15, recently wrote that the events in a hate crime "news" story published by Newswatch33 never happened. Here is a cached image of the article that appears to have been taken down.
Other claims from the website seem just as ludicrous.
Why you can't buy rights to the Confederate flag
There’s no evidence Hammerstein is really the Carters’ attorney, nor any other verifiable account of this story.
Even if the quote were accurate -- which it’s not -- getting the rights to the Confederate flag would be a fool’s errand. Not even for $280 million?
"No," said Christopher Jon Sprigman, a law professor at New York University.
"Because the flag was created under the laws of the Confederacy, even if there was a copyright on this, it’s a question of whether it would still be covered (by that copyright)," Sprigman said.
The particular design that we now associate with the Confederacy was actually rejected as the Confederate States of America’s national flag in 1861. Designed by South Carolinian Rep. William Porcher Miles, it was later an unofficial emblem of General Robert E. Lee’s army in Virginia.
It is unclear whether Porcher legally laid claim to his design, but either way, federal law only protects an author’s copyright for 70 years after his or her death. The Porcher estate’s claim to the flag has long run out; he died in 1899. Just like the American flag, the Confederate flag is now in the public domain, free to reproduce and distribute.
Furthermore, it would be extremely difficult to file a trademark on the flag. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), "a refusal (of the trademark) must be issued if the design would be perceived by the public as a flag."
We could only find one instance throughout history of a flag being successfully copyrighted: Australian artist Harold Thomas sought and won the exclusive rights to the flag he created for Australia’s Aboriginal people.
Newswatch33 reported that "Jay-Z and Beyonce Attempt to Buy Rights to Confederate Flag to Prevent Further Use."
The website has published dubious stories before, and this seems to be yet another fabrication. We were unable to locate the story’s main source, and the power couple’s legal teams have said nothing about the matter.
It is impossible to purchase the right to the Confederate Flag, a public domain item.
We rate this claim Pants on Fire!
PunditFact, "PunditFact fact-checks claims about the South Carolina Confederate battle flag controversy," June 22, 2015
PunditFact, "Gingrich: Amazon removed educational board games about the Civil War," June 30, 2015
Newswatch 33, "Jay-Z and Beyonce Attempt to Buy Rights to Confederate Flag to Prevent Further Use," accessed July 9, 2015
International Business Times, "Are Beyonce and Jay Z really buying the Confederate flag? Sorry, the answer is no," Jul. 8, 2015
The Source, "Jay Z and Beyonce are Trying to Purchase the Rights to the Confederate Flag," July 8, 2015
WPDE.com, "Fake hate crime news story has Myrtle Beach officials concerned," July 6, 2015
Newswatch 33, cached image of "Independence Day Massacre: 2 Black Teens Beaten To Death," accessed July 8, 2015
Newswatch 33, "Charleson Church Shooter Dylann Roof Receives $4 Million in Donations from Supporters," accessed July 9, 2015
Snopes.com, "Roof Despair Fund," June 25, 2015
Phone interview with Christopher Jon Sprigman, professor of law, New York University, July 8, 2015
United States Copyright Office, "Copyright Basics," May 2012
United States Trademark Office, "Examination Guide 2-07, Sec. 2(b): Flags and Government Insignia," Nov. 27, 2007
Washington Post, "Redskins Trademark Order," June 18, 2014
BBC News, "Why do people still fly the Confederate flag?," Aug. 30, 2013
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