Deep Trouble: Legal Complications Threaten to Destroy The Viking Voice

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Can you find Comito and friends? / Photoshopper: McCabe Webb

The Viking Voice has always prided itself on fearlessly promoting controversial content, and being brave enough to risk our own back to inform the rest of the students at our school. In essence, we are everything a student newspaper should be. There is, however, a voice at the back of our minds at each story brainstorming meeting, saying “could this be the story that finally gets us in trouble?”

Unfortunately, we escape scot free, more often than not. The closest we have ever gotten to controversy was with the article concerning chicken tenders that we wrote a few years back. What is the point of a newspaper if we are not raking people through the mud, and stirring up controversy? The New York Times has been sued at least twice for goodness’ sake, and I personally think The Viking Voice is far past due for some controversy. But be careful what you wish for, because this past week we have finally received a cease and desist letter. This letter came from the lawyer of one Mr. Philip A. Comito.

The letter arrived last Tuesday. It was red; that was the first sign it was serious. Red ink is used in the letter itself, making it rather hard to read. We even had to run the contents through Google Translate to translate it from legal jargon to English. However, once we deciphered the letter, the staff of The Viking Voice was left speechless. The essence of the letter is as follows: it is apparently unlawful for any student to use the likeness of any active duty member of staff without their written consent. Essentially, we have been asked are to discontinue the “Where’s Comito?” feature, as we have never received written consent to use his image. The letter demanded that we stop “sullying the reputation of a well respected staff member”, and that if we didn’t, “immediate legal action would be taken”; we’d be sued. 

I looked into the sender of the letter, wondering if the person was just some two-bit lawyer that we could beat in court, because, let’s face it, that would make a great article. This letter, however, was sent by Simon J. Smith, a member of the same fraternity that Comito was a member of while he attended the University of Richmond. A quick call to Smith’s secretary confirmed that they are indeed very close, and meet yearly at the fraternity’s annual demolition derby.

Comito certainly seemed serious, as we received another letter that gave us an estimate of how much money Comito would be entitled to receive in damages if we did not stop using his image. For legal reasons, I cannot share the exact amount, but let’s just say it is far more than we have in our budget.

The staff at The Viking Voice was at an impasse; we did not want to be sued for the fear that this newspaper would cease to exist, but we did not want to deprive the public of their seemingly favorite part of The Viking Voice, the “Where’s Comito?” feature. The final decision was left up to my fellow editor-in-chief, Paris Wilson, and me. After much deliberation, we reached a decision. Our budget consists of a couple Monopoly bills and a half-empty two-liter bottle of Sprite in our mini fridge, so we are willing to risk calling Comito’s bluff. We have decided to continue “Where’s Comito?” in our newspaper, and in response to Smith’s threat of legal action, in the words of great comedian John Oliver,  we confidently respond: “wanna dance?”