Huey Newton Foundation Sues CafePress

Use of his image is a trademark violation, suit claims

The widow of Black Panther Party-co-founder Dr. Huey P. Newton is suing a California clothing company for $2 million for unauthorized use of his likeness.

Fredrika Newton is accusing CafePress of Santa Mateo, Calif., of selling Huey Newton paraphernalia—including coffee mugs, tote bags, kids’ baseball shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts, pins, buttons, and badges— in violation of the trademark held by the Vallejo, Calif.-based Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation.

Some of the items, which have been listed as some of the most popular items on the clothier's website, are emblazoned with the iconic photo of Newton sitting in a high-back rattan chair, wearing a beret and holding a rifle in one hand and a spear in the other. Others sport a picture of a black panther.

The foundation trademarked both images in 2008, but that was already two years after CafePress started selling its revolutionary-themed clothing line.

CafePress declined to comment, citing the lawsuit, but appeared to have removed the offending items from its website.

During his life, Newton helped black people combat civil rights abuses, provided free breakfast for impoverished children and raised awareness of sickle cell anemia.

But his legacy was a complex one: he was also a drug addict, who had been charged with murder three times, once for allegedly killing a police officer. He was never convicted.

Today his likeness sells rather well. And at $20 for a CafePress T-shirt, according to the suit, it’s cutting into money that would otherwise be going to the foundation, which uses the funds to work for social change in Newton's name.

The foundation, which is run by Newton’s widow, also trademarked Newton's catchphrase “Burn baby burn,” which it uses on a line of hot sauces.