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Valentine Cards Don’t Amuse Ventura

February 12, 1999 GMT

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) _ Pat Helmberger thought it was all in fun when she and a friend made Valentine’s Day cards depicting Gov. Jesse Ventura in his wrestling garb, complete with pink hearts and a pink feather boa.

The response she got from Ventura was anything but affectionate.

Helmberger, a state Capitol secretary who runs a card business on the side, thought she was on firm legal ground with her card, which reads ``Happy Valentine’s Day, Honey!″ on the outside and ``Get Ready to Rumble″ inside. She has sold $200 worth of the cards.

Two attorneys told her she was protected by First Amendment rights to free speech because Ventura was a public official.

``I figured this is America,″ she said. ``I’ve seen lots of cards and things with politicians on them.″

Ventura figured otherwise.

Helmberger received a ``cease-and-desist″ letter Thursday from Ventura for Minnesota Inc., the nonprofit company that licenses Ventura products and hunts down unlicensed products.

Ventura, a former pro wrestler and movie actor, has become a hot marketing property, with everything from unauthorized ``Our governor can beat up your governor″ T-shirts to the official Jesse Ventura action figure due out in April.

``Being that his business relies heavily on his name and persona, it’s in his interests to protect them during this interim period in which he’s governor,″ said Ventura spokesman John Wodele.

Ventura has long guarded his intellectual property rights _ a developing part of the law that allows people to protect their name and likeness. In 1995, he was awarded $1 million from the World Wrestling Federation, which sold videotapes that used his image without permission.

John Sumners, a Minneapolis intellectual property rights attorney, said Ventura has his rights, but there is an enormous gray area where First Amendment rights and the ``right to publicity″ intersect.

``The cards appear to be purely commercial, so he probably would have a legal case there,″ he said. ``But if those same cards carried a political statement, that might well be protected.″

Helmberger said she would be happy to share the profits with Ventura, but she won’t become a licensee.

``I’ll give him 10 percent,″ she said. ``That would be about 20 bucks. I just don’t want anyone telling me how I can or can’t express myself artistically.″