Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Giuliani Makes 9/11 His Brand

Published: June 5, 2007

The Republican candidates for president will go at it again tonight, debating in New Hampshire. Terrorism and national security are bound to figure as topics, and we all know what that means: Former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani will have another chance to assert proprietary rights to Sept. 11 and how we should understand that day.

Not that Mr. Giuliani is alone in believing that his perspectives on this subject are special. Like him, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton claims a unique status by virtue of being a New Yorker.

During the Democratic candidates’ own New Hampshire debate on Sunday night, former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina dismissed the “war on terror” as a political slogan — a “bumper sticker,” as he called it. In disagreeing, Mrs. Clinton established her street cred.

“I’m a senator from New York,” she said. “I have lived with the aftermath of 9/11.”

It will be interesting to see what happens should she and Mr. Giuliani go toe to toe as their party’s nominees. One can imagine the former mayor hauling off on her should she use that aftermath line again. Aftermath? I was there, he’d say.

That was Mr. Giuliani’s tactic during a debate last month when he lit into a fellow Republican, Representative Ron Paul of Texas. Mr. Paul had suggested that American policies in the Middle East, going back to the Persian Gulf war of 1991, have contributed to the Muslim anger that has produced atrocities like the 2001 terrorist attacks. Though it wasn’t his turn to speak, Mr. Giuliani piped up as the indignant proprietor of 9/11 memory.

“That’s an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of Sept. 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq,” he said. No Clintonesque aftermath for him. He was there.

Mr. Giuliani has made the attack so much his province — the satirical newspaper The Onion says he is running for “president of 9/11” — that you have to wonder why he doesn’t try to trademark “9/11” as his own.

For a trademark claim, “he’d have to say that every time people saw ‘9/11,’ there was an association of that phrase with him, that there was an immediate link to him and his product, whatever that might be,” said Tim Wu, a professor of copyright law at Columbia University.

Indeed, that is essentially what Mr. Giuliani does say. His presidential race rests heavily on his performance on Sept. 11 and his hope that, when Americans contemplate antiterror strategies, the first name to pop into their heads is Rudy. Like every other candidate, he definitely has a product to sell: himself.

Nor is he shy about protecting himself in this regard. He has trademarked “Rudolph Giuliani” and “Giuliani Partners L.L.C.,” the company he formed after his mayoral term expired at the end of 2001. As The Daily News reported a few months ago, the company asserts that anything that “tarnishes, degrades, disparages or reflects adversely” on the Giuliani name could be grounds for terminating a contract.

The former mayor’s sensitivities about his name are well known.

You may recall how he went ballistic a decade ago when New York magazine ran advertisements on city buses that said of itself, “Possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn’t taken credit for.” The mayor leaned on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to remove the ads, and that led to lawsuits over free speech. The magazine prevailed in court. To fight a no-win battle in Mr. Giuliani’s behalf, the bus people tossed away $183,766 of riders’ money in legal fees.

GIVEN that background, the notion of trying to trademark “9/11” doesn’t seem so outlandish. But it would be an uphill climb and most likely an unsuccessful one, specialists in copyright law say.

A date on the calendar is “something so generic,” said Edward J. Davis, a Manhattan lawyer. Susan P. Crawford, a professor at the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, agreed. “It’s in broad use by so many people that it doesn’t uniquely distinguish any good or service,” she said. “It has no trademark heft.”

Professor Wu said much the same — that the date is “sort of a collective property,” beyond any individual claim. Still, he said, he could envision a debate in which “another candidate, let’s say McCain, gets up and says, ‘9/11 is important.’ And Giuliani says, ‘Do you realize that “9/11” happens to be a Giuliani trademark? You’re not allowed to talk about it.’ ”

E-mail: haberman@nytimes.com