MILWAUKEE (AP) — Foam cheeseheads are a perfectly acceptable fashion accessory for Green Bay Packers fans, just not for the Grim Reaper — especially if the angel of death is disparaging cheese in Wisconsin.
The company that makes the distinctive yellow wedges wasn't pleased when it heard that a physicians' group planned to use the headwear in an anti-cheese billboard this week near Lambeau Field, home to the Super Bowl champions. After all, Wisconsin is the nation's leading cheese producer.
The original billboard design featured the Grim Reaper holding a scythe in his bony hands and wearing a foam cheese wedge on his head, with a message warning drivers about the fat, cholesterol and sodium in cheese.
Cheesehead maker Foamation Inc. threatened legal action, prompting the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine to black out the image of the Grim Reaper's cheesehead. But the organization vowed to keep the original image on its website.
Dr. Neal Barnard, president of the Washington-based doctors group, said the overall image was intended simply to connect cheese consumption with obesity and other health problems. He told The Associated Press there was never any intent to infringe with a trademark.
"Trademark infringement is when you're trying to make money off someone else's intellectual property. We're not in that game at all," he said Tuesday. "Our mission is to get the word out about the health risks of cheese."
Foamation didn't see it that that way.
The company, based in the Milwaukee suburb of St. Francis, said it didn't want to be associated with a message disparaging the cheese industry in Wisconsin. Foamation manager Denise Kaminski said she understood that the physicians group has freedom of speech, but "we just did not like being portrayed like that."
The physicians group sent out a press release Friday announcing that the sign would go up Monday along a major highway that leads to Lambeau Field. That's when Foamation attorneys got wind of the plan.
Both sides said Tuesday that an agreement had been reached that allowed the sign, sans cheesehead, to go up. It's unclear whether the group's use of the image on its website would prompt more legal action.
But some wondered whether using the iconic hat — and encouraging residents to turn their back on one of the state's key commodities — would backfire.
"I think it will have the reverse effect to what they trying to accomplish," said Don Snyder, general manager of NextMedia Outdoor Inc., which owns the billboard. "I think the people of Wisconsin will buy more cheese to support the cheese industry. That's the backbone of the state."
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