You know you’re having a great day when the Red Cross tells you off

I got home from another day in the mines and found this in the in-box:

April 3, 2006

Attn: Allen (aka Grunt Doc)

Re: Unauthorized Use of Red Cross Emblem

Dear Sir:

It has come to the attention of the American Red Cross that you are using the emblem of the American Red Cross in connection with your Grunt Doc website. The red cross symbol is a protected trademark of the American Red Cross. Your use of the emblem of the American Red Cross is considered unauthorized.

The red cross symbol is not a generic symbol for emergency or medical services. Federal statute prohibits use of the name and emblem of the Red Cross by third parties except those which had used the name or emblem prior to 1905. I call to your attention Title 18, Section 706 of the U.S. Code:

Whoever wears or displays the sign of the Red Cross or any insignia colored in imitation thereof for the fraudulent purpose of inducing the belief that he is a member of or an agent for the American National Red Cross; or Whoever, whether a corporation, association or person, other than the American National Red Cross and its duly authorized employees and agents and the sanitary and hospital authorities of the armed forces of the United States, uses the emblem of the Greek red cross on a white ground, or any sign or insignia made or colored in imitation thereof or the words Red Cross or Geneva Cross or any combination of these words Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both. 18 U.S.C. 706.

 This statute is brought to your attention in the belief that you may not have been aware of the above prohibitions. As you can see, federal law expressly prohibits unauthorized parties from using the Red Cross name and emblem and imposes criminal penalties for violations. Furthermore, the emblem is also a federally registered trademark. Therefore, your misappropriation of the emblem also violates federal and state trademark law, unfair competition law and anti-dilution law. Attached is a brochure that explains the unique status of the Red Cross emblem and why protection of it is so important.

The American Red Cross insists that you immediately refrain from all current and future uses of the American Red Cross emblem in connection with your Grunt Doc website and in all other aspects as well. You must either (i) change the color of your cross to a color other than red or a shade of red or (ii) stop using the cross symbol altogether.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. Please contact me to advise me of the corrective action taken.


[redacted by me]

Senior Paralegal

Office of the General Counsel

American Red Cross

2025 E Street, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20006

So, farewell to the old GruntDoc logo with the Red Cross (under which I slept and cared for military personnel).  I haven’t decided what change I’ll make.

Funny, they didn’t object when I ran a Red Cross ad, for free, on my site encouraging people to give to them after disasters.  I guess they have enough money now.


  1. Derrick L says:

    It seems to me that under the statue as quoted, you would only be in violation of the statute if you were attempting to induce the belief that you were affiliated with the red cross.. if you stated underneath it “not an agent of, or affiliated with the Red Cross” it seems like you should still be able to use the image. Where are those pesky lawyer types that lurk around on your blog to answer this?

  2. Well thats a fine “How do you do”…Shame on them for doing that.
    You know for many years my Father (WWII VET) absolutely despised them. Something about when he was shot in the head in Germany, and after waiting for more than 8 weeks for an update from the war dept, my mother contacted them to help gather information for her. They did find out what over seas hospital he was in and his current condition…3 months later my mother received a large bill from them for their services. The more I hear about them the more turned off I become with them. What asses!

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’m so glad I’ve donated to the Red Cross so they can hire lawyers to bug you about using their logo.

  4. TheNewGuy says:

    This is standard for the Red Cross… they aggressively smack-down anyone who attempts to use their trademarked symbol, no matter how benign the intent. Don’t feel singled out; they send those kind of legal trademark notices to everyone.

    If this kind of lawyerly bullying sticks in your craw, and if you’d like to give to an organization other than the red cross, I’d suggest the Salvation Army, or Samaritan’s Purse. Both of those organizations have pretty good reputations, and not nearly the same level of scandal that has engulfed the United Way in recent years.

  5. The Gunner says:

    I wonder…can you blog from prison?

  6. FormerFlyer says:

    If you think this is bad, you should try doing business with them! All that blood you donate, they sell. They are usually the only supplier of human blood for hospital blood bank and transfusion services, and they are just PEACHY when they’re the ones selling and you’re the one buying.

    Reminds me of the unofficial airline slogan, “You were a customer until you bought the ticket. Now you’re just a passenger.”

  7. Aerospace Genius says:

    It looks like they need to send that letter to the USMC, USN, USAF, USA, and USCG as well.

  8. Mrs. Fred says:

    AG, you’ve done yourself proud! Mr. and Mrs. Fred

  9. I think you have every right to use that red cross. Especially if you were a medic. How dare they?

  10. Grunt Doc,
    I just deleted a scarlet crucifix from my blog as well. They will get no further time or money from this registered nurse.

  11. You have got to be kidding me. Don’t they have more important things to do with their time?

  12. TheNewGuy says:

    The Internation Committee of the Red Cross was established in Geneva in 1863, and incorporated into the first Geneva Convention the following year. It was then that the “red cross” symbol was coined.

    The Red Cross allows militaries to use the Red Cross (along with a red crescent in muslim countries, a red star-of-david in Israel, and one or two other miscellaneous symbols) as a protective insignia… primarily to mark hospitals, medical personnel, and other medical facilities. Facilities so marked (and not being used as fighting positions, or to store munitions) are exempt from attack under the laws of war. It’s considered a war crime to attack a hospital that’s not being used as a military asset. It’s one of the circumstances where medics/physicians/nurses may utilize lethal force in defense of themselves, and their patients.

    Hospitals are generally not to be attacked… although terrorists and similar ilk have never paid much attention to such niceties.

    The military is allowed to use the Red Cross… but commercial and non-military use is frowned upon.

  13. I suppose restating the obvious has some advantages.

    Additionally, this letter wasn’t from the ICRC, it was from the ARC, defending their moneymaking turf.

  14. Supremacy Claus says:

    I found it highly offensive that a doctor could be threatened by a paralegal, and was not deemed worthy of a threatening note from a full lawyer.

  15. LightenUp says:

    Oh give it a break. There are lots of scamsters who try and use the Red Cross for cover. It’s a legal issue, and the organization can’t pick and choose which misuses to go after and which to ignore. That’s the way the trademark laws are written.

    When your house burns down in the middle of the night or a tornado destroys your town, how many bloggers will be there to help?

    Proud Red Cross employee, blood donor and financial donor.

  16. Law Weasel says:

    It’s not trademark law quoted above, LightenUp. It’s federal criminal law (Title 18). Federal trademark law is Title 15.

    The trademark laws are written with some wriggle-room (defenses). For example, GruntDoc might argue “fair use” if this were simply a trademark law issue.

    The federal criminal statute above is pretty black-&-white, and it’s very specific: you’re either allowed to use it (if you’re the Red Cross, or if you’re the US armed forces) or you’re not (anyone else).

    If you’re the Red Cross, I think, you’ve got friends in high places.

  17. Federal criminal law, indeed. So it appears this senior paralegal was accusing you of intent to deceive; that you had fraudulent purposes. Using his logic, Ray Simpson of the Village People should be arrested for impersonating a police officer.

  18. Chet - the barracks attorney says:

    While it is evident that you are not trying to:
    “inducing the belief that he is a member of or an agent for the American National Red Cross”, I think the relevant language is here:
    “misappropriation of the emblem also violates federal and state trademark law, unfair competition law and anti-dilution law.”

    Here is a snip from the below link:

    “As can be imagined, the use of someone else’s mark on noncompetitive goods can cause injury to the original owner of the mark. Dilution of the trademark is that injury. Broadly speaking, dilution is a weakening or reduction in the ability of a mark to clearly and unmistakably distinguish one source of a product/service from another. This weakening can occur in two ways. The first is dilution by blurring. Consumers will see the original mark being used by others to identify other sources of noncompetitive goods and services; thus, the unique and distinctive significance of the mark to identify the original owner’s product may be diluted and weakened. The Kodak motorcycles example is a classic case of blurring. Should the Kodak mark be allowed to be used on several different noncompeting products, the distinctive character of the mark will be reduced and weakened.”
    Again, I am just an impartial barracks attorney, but I think there guys could get over on you with this. I like the new graphics anyway.

  19. Chet, my comment was regarding the Federal Criminal law portion. It’s one thing to tell someone you will sue them civilly for trademark infringement, but quite another to accuse someone of a crime! Mr. Senior Paralegal should have left the Title 18 quote out of the letter. It wasn’t pertinent. It was either meanspirited or just plain ignorance on his part.

  20. David Nesting says:

    I personally don’t mind that they send out notes of some kind to people that are misusing their trademark. The Red Cross symbol is particularly important to protect since dilution of this mark has significant consequences. If it starts appearing in lots of places, in a time of war, people stop recognizing the mark as designating something that should be protected. Vehicles and structures with the mark then become legitimate targets.

    I do object (as always) to the stick-before-the-carrot approach to resolving the issue, though. How hard would it be for an organization like this to explain the problem, explain why it’s a problem, and to request that it be resolved without threats of legal action? Give the recipient a chance to deal with the issue, and only when they fail to do so, or respond negatively, should you consider adopting a stronger stance. Seeing this type of behavior will make me reconsider my substantial annual Red Cross donation. I can’t *stand* legal types that feel the need to throw legal threats around in order to get their way. Is it a power thing?

  21. Stephen says:

    I have long disliked the Red Cross for a number of reasons. They were quite active in the Los Angeles area in shutting down non-profit organizations that threatened their profitability (HemaCare et. all).

    Additionally, my grandfather served in WWII in the East Asia theater. He came home shaking his head that the Red Cross would charge GIs for coffee while they were recovering in field hospitals. While I’m certain that providing coffee to GIs is not itself free of expense for the Red Cross, at a time when so many others were giving so much, it just comes across as ridiculously petty. It stuck with him over the years…we could expect a retelling of that story anytime he was offered coffee in an office and NOT charged for it.

    Just keep in mind, the Red Cross is a corporation FIRST and a relief organization SECOND.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Stephen…I have heard lots and lots of similar stories from men that are, or were, WWII vets…These man had no use whatsoever for the “Red Cross”…My Dad always made all of his donations to the salvation army. He had much more respect for them.

  23. 1. I know a Dr. Redcross. That’s his real, parentally bestowed name. Should he be worried???

    2. My mom had the same negative feelings about the Red Cross. She knew soldiers that had to buy coffe, cigarettes & other items that had been “donated” to the Red Cross. She would never donate to them & was quite vehement about this. However, I’ve also heard that since they got such a black mark about this, they’ve subsequently changed the practice. But, I’ve heard the same song from several WWII vintage folk. SO, I’d believe that was SOP back then.

  24. I know it was a form letter, and I know the legal justification behind their position. I myself, in a former online life, received a “cease and desist” letter from Fox Entertainment about a fan site I ran that allegedly improperly used material from said network. My dad’s an attorney (not IP law, but certainly more wise than the gen pop), and we’ve talked a lot about such things.

    I don’t know if this will pass our host’s “morality clause,” (heh) but I say “f*ck ’em and feed ’em fishheads.” It’s a form letter, but in order to fill in the blanks, the [sub]attorney that sends the letter takes reponsibility for verifying the infraction and its relevance before sending. Knowing the recipient was a veteran who honorably served in the Armed Services, much less in a medical capacity, really destroys the spirit, not necessarily the letter, of the law (or at least its attempted enforcement). A letter requesting some disclaimer or modification of the logo so that even the most dim-witted individual could not mistake our good doctor for the Red Cross would have been far more appropriate, easier to comply with, and mutually respectful overall. “Change the color or remove it,” are not the only two viable options.

    Now that I’m here, I like the new logo, although I don’t know if the 2nd hat is a Texan cowboy hat or a USMC-style DI hat. It looks like the former, but just making sure. My suggestion to Dr. Allen is to add or superimpose a green surgical cap, to complete the all-inclusive picture. Or better yet, emblazen a red cross on the cammo cap, just as a “universal one-finger salute back ‘atcha” that will probably not even be on their radar. But that’s just pissed off old me. ;) Kudos to GruntDoc for handling it in a professional manner.

  25. GruntDoc says:

    It’s a good quality Resistol cowboy hat. I wouldn’t presume to put a DI’s hat up there.

    Now I’ll just wait for the Resistol form letter…

  26. Although I do like the new logo, I couldn’t help thinking what you should’ve done is make it look less like a greek cross and more like a crucifix. Last I checked, Jesus didn’t trademark it.

  27. Michael says:

    Why not use the English flag (cross of saint George). It looks just the same.

  28. For many years, I supported the American Red Cross (as opposed to the dreadful International Red Cross). As a Lt, I volunteered to to run the “cookie cart” on Sundays at HAFB, NM. I always remembered them and the USO at CFC time. Then in the late 90s/early 2000’s the revelations came out about the ARC not passing along all the money to the disasters and other accounting irregularities/PR disasters…

    The final straw came a few days after 9/11. I was in the relief area at the Pentagon where they were taking care of the rescue workers and the critical workers (command posts, etc.). I had $100 in my wallet from a rebate check I had just cashed. I went up to the Red Cross table and asked to make a donation. They refused!?!?! WTF? They said they had no way of taking the money… So, I walked over to the Salvation Army desk and asked the same question. The SA Major asked her supervisor and they said yes, but they had no receipts. I said it didn’t matter what it was written on. So, amidst my tax receipts for that year is one written on a napkin. And the SA has gotten my money ever since ;^)

  29. Jim in Texas says:

    I’ve been down on the Red Cross after I learned that I couldn’t give blood anymore because I lived in England during the years that “Mad Cow” was allegedly getting started (78 – 84)

    Plus, when I was in Somalia in 92-93, I busted the local IRC manager selling bags of donanted grain on the black market so he could pay off his local staff. I also seized a crap load of weapons, including 60mm mortars, at the IRC facility less than a 1/4 mile from my beloved C-5s.

    Capricious? yep! spiteful whimsey? you becha…..scroom.

  30. We tried to run free ad for Arthritis Foundation: they harassed us about their logo. These orgs are too big: they care about trademarks and legislations more than they care for money or delivery of services they suppose to do. AMA is as good…

  31. Joe Scarborough put it best, while talking about Red Cross deplorable performance during Katrina:

    don‘t you find that FEMA and these local authorities and these big national charities are almost like rival gangs? If you don‘t filter everything through them, they don‘t want to help the people.

    if you are not in their gang, they want nothing to do with you. And, a lot of times, they will stand in the way.

  32. I’m with Samaritan’s Purse, all the way….