A cartoon knockoff of HBO’s hit series “The Sopranos,” which had been used as ammunition in the advertising arsenals of groups pushing property-rights initiatives in four Western states, has been pulled following inquiries by the Center for Public Integrity.
The Web-based political ads — with virtually identical animated sequences and soundtracks but customized for each state — all urged viewers to “vote yes” on ballot measures that would radically reshape zoning, land-use, and environmental practices.
An HBO spokeswoman told the Center on October 4 that the network’s legal team was investigating, but it is unclear whether HBO took any action.
Two lawyers who specialize in intellectual property and entertainment law told the Center that both the creator of the “Sopranos” spots and the organizations that used them might be liable for copyright or trademark infringement.
Each political ad opened, as does the HBO show, with Tony Soprano driving through what appears to be northern New Jersey, passing oil storage tanks and the Statue of Liberty. In the ads, though, it wasn’t Jersey; depending on the Web site, it was Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, or Washington.
The ads, identically titled “Gangster Politicians: The Eminent Domain,” showed Tony and his mafia cohorts — with the help of government officials — taking over an ice cream parlor, a single-family house, and a church, all in the name of “Bada Bing Development.”
The Center asked HBO and several lawyers to examine the ads, which were created by Political Media, Inc., a political consulting firm in Washington, D.C.
“This is a matter for HBO’s legal team,” Tobe Becker of HBO told the Center in an e-mail message. “They are aware of these ads. I’m afraid we have no additional information to share with you at this time, other than to say we are looking into the matter.”