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Kraft Foods ratchets up free speech attack on local artist

Local underground artist Stu Helm -- aka King VelVeeda -- will be back in court on Friday, June 21, for the next phase of Kraft Foods’ legal battle to bar him from using the nickname he has used on his artwork for 13 years. Kraft says the nickname threatens the company's good name. Legal observers say the giant conglomerate is attacking his first amendment rights.
Chicago, IL: Local underground artist Stu Helm will be back in federal court on Friday, June 21, for the next phase in Kraft Foods’ civil lawsuit against the graphic designer to prevent him from using ‘King VelVeeda,’ the nickname he has employed on his artwork for thirteen years. Kraft has argued that Helm's nickname threatens the company's good name by diluting it's trademark.

The case has taken on the connotations of a classic 'David vs. Goliath' court battle that pits the first amendment rights of a low-income local underground comics artist against the resources of one of the world’s largest corporate conglomerates.

In April, Kraft sued to prevent Helm from using his nickname on both his artwork and his website, While the nickname does not technically constitute trademark infringement, Kraft can argue trademark dilution if they can show the “possibility of future harm” through market confusion should, for example, a consumer’s idea about Velveeta cheese change by mistakenly stumbling onto the website. Kraft claims that the frequent use of the word “cheesy” in conjunction with what they claim to be “unsavory” website content tarnishes its trademark and causes “irreparable harm.”

Ironically, most website searches only bring up references to Kraft's signature product, Velveeta cheese loaf, in conjunction with the 'King VelVeeda' nickname on articles related to the lawsuit. The search engine results suggest that Kraft's target audience, described by a company marketing official in a legal deposition as 'loaf loving moms', in fact stand to be exposed to the nickname largely as a direct result of the company's legal action.

Kraft is seeking unspecified monetary damages, trebled for ‘willfulness.’ On June 10, the company won a temporary injunction against Helm that currently prevents the graphic artist from using the nickname.

Helm is being represented by first amendmant attorney Burton Joseph of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and Burton's associates Ken Levinson and James Joseph. If the court rules in favor of Kraft, all copyrights on Helm’s website signed as King VelVeeda will become instantly endangered. He has already lost thousands of dollars in business due to time spent on the court case and away from his work.

In the wake of the injunction, Helm has censored the King VelVeeda knickname from his website, which also includes extensive information about Kraft's legal attack on his work and links to a number of issues-based websites that have also expressed ire about other company policies.

Kraft Foods, which is the largest food company in the United States, has also drawn criticism from consumer advocates for using untested and unlabeled genetically engineered ingredients in products that are believed to include Taco Bell taco shells, Oreos, Lunchables, and Stovetop stuffing.

In addition, the corporate conglomerate, which includes Phillip Morris and Miller Brewing, has drawn fire for practices that include marketing cigarettes to children.



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