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ARLINGTON, Va. — A new twist to the Pentagon’s “55 most wanted Iraqis” playing card brouhaha has emerged: A major playing card company is claiming that it has property rights to images used on two of the cards.

As of Tuesday, there were more than 3,000 listings for the Iraq card decks and card-related items on the online marketplace site eBay.

But officials from United States Playing Card Co. feel they’re getting dealt a bad hand.

In an e-mail message sent to Stripes on Monday that was followed by a telephone interview, George White, the company’s vice president for marketing, said that the images of the joker used on two cards in DIA’s decks are trademarked by Hoyle Official, a subsidiary of the United States Playing Card Co.

One of the joker cards shows Iraqi military ranks and the other shows Arab tribal titles.

The cards were originally developed and printed by the Defense Intelligence Agency, which printed 200 decks on its own presses, to help U.S. soldiers learn to recognize 55 Iraqi officials they are supposed to pursue, kill or capture.

The 200 decks were shipped to U.S. Central Command headquarters at Camp Doha, Qatar, where Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks featured them during an April 11 CENTCOM briefing.

At the time Brooks displayed the cards, they had not yet made their way to troops, according to Pentagon spokeswoman Megan Fox. The cards were handed out to troops sometime after April 15 or 16, but Fox said she was unable to provide details about which troops received the cards, or why those individuals were selected.

But no sooner had Brooks held up the deck than public interest in obtaining the cards exploded.

After receiving a barrage of requests for the cards from both military and civilian personnel who wanted souvenirs, DIA officials released computer “.pdf” files that allow anyone with Internet access to download the playing card templates for free. And in the tradition of American entrepreneurial spirit, literally thousands of people have used government-supplied .pdf files to manufacture “collector’s items.”

United States Playing Card Co. had nothing to do with the DIA’s project, but “we were happy” when the agency picked up the joker, White said.

But “while we have no problem with the U.S. military handing out a few hundred of these decks,” White wrote, “once we saw other companies earning a profit by printing these decks including our joker, we have aggressively sought to protect our intellectual property.”

United States Playing Card Co. is now sending out letters to other companies that are printing and selling the decks, warning them of copyright infringement, White said.

“There is a long list of people we’re contacting,” White said. “We’ve sent out dozens of letters. We’ve been pretty busy.”

Meanwhile, “we have [also] requested that the DOD advise that this entire deck is not in the public domain as previously advertised,” White wrote.

Only people who are printing the cards and then turning around and trying to make a buck need to fear the wrath of United Playing Card lawyers, White said — people who have downloaded the .pdf files and printed them for their personal enjoyment are not breaking the law.

In a telephone interview from eBay’s San Jose, Calif., headquarters, spokesman Kevin Pursglove said Tuesday that eBay has not heard from the United States Playing Card Co. about its claim, but will work with the company if and when it is contacted.

“EBay will be hearing from us,” White promised.

The company has received “a handful” of complaints from customers who say sellers are claiming to have “real” Iraqi cards, meaning one of the original 200 decks, Pursglove said. In response, eBay officials have removed “about 10 or 11” seller listings that were clearly fraudulent, he said.


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