Who don't? The NFL
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Who owns the rights to the famous New Orleans Saints fan chant, 'Who Dat'? I've got my own opinions but the further this ridiculous mess goes, the more muddied the waters become. The one thing, however, I know for sure is who absolutely, positively does not own the rights and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the National Football League.
The 'Who Dat' chant has been around for over twenty years, yelled and sung by passionate Saints fans and used creatively by local New Orleans vendors. From sidewalks to storefronts. From Magazine Street to Bourbon Street. It's as ingrained in the culture of the Crescent City as Jazz and gumbo. So the timing of the NFL's crackdown naturally begs the question: Why now? Why, after all these years of use and right before the Saints first trip to the Super Bowl, has the NFL decided to send cease and desist letters to select local businesses in New Orleans? The timing alone should raise suspicion and doubt.
The league claims ownership because they believe the the chant is directly related to New Orleans football, thus making the league the rightful owners. League spokesman Greg Aiello stated, "If 'Who Dat' is used in a manner to refer to Saints football, we own trademark rights to it." Ooh, that sounds serious; it must be true. If only that were the case. According to Harvard Law's website, the rights to a trademark can be acquired in one of two ways: (1) by being the first to use the mark in commerce; or (2) by being the first to register the mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. If this debate continues, it will inevitably fall on a judge to decide. In a court of law, I don't think the NFL could prove either. Who Dat, Inc., on the other hand, can prove both.
Go ahead and ask the New Orleans Saints how they came up with "Who Dat?" or show when they first used it and I'm nearly certain they won't have an answer. The Monistere brothers however, owners of Who Dat, Inc. and the people whom I believe to be the rightful owners, if any, can tell you exactly where it came from. They were there when the first song was recorded, a well-documented event, in 1983. They were also the first to sell the CD's and market the slogan. Or check the Louisiana Secretary of State's office and the United States Patent & Trademark office. They both have Who Dat, Inc. listed as the first company to register for the "Who Dat" trademark, though they did let it expire at the state level.
Of course, the Who Dat chant actually dates back further than the Monistere's 1983 hit. It's first recorded use dates back to late 19th-century minstrel shows. Following that, New Orleans high school St. Augustine used it as a cheer for years. Because of this long-standing history it's quite possible the saying may even be deemed public domain, meaning that nobody owns it and that it's free to be used by anyone in anyway.
Like true New Orleanians, the Monistere brothers felt that creating a definitive Saints tradition was reward enough; that's the reason this issue hasn't been raised until recently. They know that 'Who Dat' really belongs to the people of New Orleans. But leave it up to the NFL to try and put a stop to a 25-year Saints tradition just days after the franchise has reached the pinnacle of their success. Next week they'll claim they own the entire musical genre of Jazz "when the Saints go marching" into Miami.
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