Technically, the Fulton County Sheriff Could Go After Trump Mugshot Merchandise Revenue (Which Topped $7M)
Politico reported that the sale of Trump mugshot merchandise—including T-shirts, coffee mugs (bringing the opportunity for even more "mugshot" puns), and more—brought in $7.1 million for the Trump campaign. It set a record for highest single 24-hour period for his campaign, bringing in $4.18 million in just one day.
the official Donald Trump 2024 campaign mugshot merchandise is here pic.twitter.com/I3oJ8jxU9G
— Matt Binder (@MattBinder) August 25, 2023
The nature of a mugshot, being that it was released by the Fulton County sheriff to the public, means that others can use the mugshot for their own merchandise, and it has popped up on band T-shirts and on popular websites like Barstool.
— CONSEQUENCE (@consequence) August 26, 2023
But, technically, a mugshot is not public domain, and there is an outside chance that, if it wanted to, the Fulton County sheriff could go after the Trump campaign for some of that revenue.
It's all very theoretical, but MSNBC did report that, technically, the image is the property of the sheriff, and therefore the office could say that those millions the campaign made would actually belong to them.
An important distinction is that while the U.S. government can't own a copyright to booking photos, and thus they are considered public domain, that's not the case with "mugshots taken in state and local criminal proceedings," MSNBC reported.
"In the context of the photographs taken by law enforcement during the booking process, the author of the mugshot photograph is the law enforcement agency," a 2022 article in the University of Georgia School of Law's Journal of Intellectual Property said.
So, yes, technically, the Fulton County sheriff could have a legal claim to the mugshot merchandise revenue. But, it's highly unlikely.
What would be more likely is that the Trump campaign goes after people who have used the image for unrelated purposes or for trying to appear related to the campaign.
Chris LaCivita, one of Trump's advisors, posted on X (formerly known as Twitter) that the campaign would go after those who falsely claim to be related to the Trump campaign through merchandise.
If you are a campaign, PAC , scammer and you try raising money off the mugshot of @realDonaldTrump and you have not received prior permission …WE ARE COMING AFTER YOU you will NOT SCAM DONORS
— Chris LaCivita (@LaCivitaC) August 25, 2023
It's interesting, because a lot of people, including possibly the Trump campaign, would assume that a mugshot is fair game to use. But, the important distinction is the difference between federal and state agencies.
So, again, while it's unlikely that the sheriff would decide to go after the Trump campaign for this, it would also apply to all of the copycats and other groups who have used the mugshot as either a parody or a means of support.