Just days before the Super Bowl kicks off, the National Football League has done some strategic back-peddling from its claim of ownership rights in the popular chant of New Orleans Saints fans — “Who Dat?” The NFL drew almost universal criticism from Saints fans and the public at large after sending out a series of demand letters to local business last month ordering them to cease-and-desist selling tee-shirts bearing the “Who Dat?” slogan, the tag line from the chant “Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?” Compounding its error, the league even went so far as to claim ownership of the fleur-de-lis, the ancient symbol of the French monarchy that adorns Saints uniforms.
In response, Louisiana’s attorney general wrote the league defending the right of fans and vendors to “Who Dat,” the fleur-de-lis and the team colors. After taking a beating in the press over the last month, and being inundated with official letters of protest from not only local officials but also Senator David Vitter (R-La.) — who informed the NFL that he was printing up his own “Who Dat say we can’t print WHO Dat” shirts — NFL officials today renounced their claim to exclusive rights to “Who Dat?” and the fleur-de-lis, claiming that the whole thing was a huge misunderstanding.
So, after all the fuss, who owns “Who Dat? The correct answer is: Who knows?
I am a commercial litigator and intellectual property lawyer in Orange County. Although my practice encompasses a wide variety of business disputes, I have a particular fondness for, and am prone to wax philosophical on, the subjects of copyright and trademark infringement in music, literature, art, and film.