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A True Tale of Two Nastygrams

Since 1994, Randy Cassingham has published offbeat news stories at his Web site This is True. When a reader suggested he would go to hell because of one of the stories he wrote, he came up with the Get Out of Hell Free card, a take-off on the Get Out of Jail Free card used in the popular Hasbro game Monopoly. He claims to have since sold more than 1 million of the cards, which show Monopoly mascot Rich Uncle Pennybags being ejected from the gates of hell. But the cards have also put Cassingham in the middle of an unusual legal story perfect for This is True. As a matter of fact, he tells it there.

Last week, Cassingham writes, he received a cease-and-desist letter from Hasbro's lawyers:

We recently became aware that you are offering for sale "Last Chance - Get Out of Hell Free" cards and stickers on your website at that depict the famous MR. MONOPOLY® character and are obviously derived from the MONOPOLY® "Chance" card. ...

We therefore demand that you immediately cease and desist from any further use of the MR. MONOPOLY® character, remove the cards and stickers from your website, and provide us with a written assurance that in the future you will refrain from any further unauthorized use of the elements and characters of the MONOPOLY® property trading game.

But here's the rub: It appears the lawyers who sent that letter forgot that they had sent him a letter nearly nine years ago. In 2000, the firm Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler wrote him to demand that he discontinue publishing the cards. In the true spirit of This is True, the letter was sent certified mail but arrived with several dollars of postage due, Cassingham says. He refused to pay it so the letter was returned unopened. Two months later, the lawyers sent it to him by e-mail. His lawyer responded to Hasbro's lawyers, contending that his cards were parody and that he was within his rights to publish them. He also added a disclaimer to the card noting that it is in no way affiliated with the Hasbro product.

That was the last he heard from Hasbro's lawyers until last week, when they apparently rediscovered what they'd already known. Cassingham's understanding nine years ago was that Hasbro had decided not to go any further. Last week's letter came as a surprise. "They didn't check their own files and see that Hasbro clearly decided not to move forward against us many years ago?" He doesn't believe that, he writes. He suspects this latest salvo is due to the rough economy and the company's attempt to "squeeze out a few more bucks." His response to their latest demand is to keep selling the cards, only stamped on each one is the word "void."

And in a final strange-but-true twist, this week Cassingham came across a MarketWatch story about the economic downturn, "Adopting a Bunker Mentality." Who should the story use to illustrate Wall Street's anxiety? None other than Rich Uncle Pennybags, now holed up in a bunker eating beans. "So now," he writes, "Hasbro's lawyers get to turn their attention to someone with very deep pockets: Rupert Murdoch."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on March 5, 2009 at 03:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)


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