Using Copyrights and Trademarks to Duck Accountability and Criticism

There is an ever-present effort among corporations, government officials, and public figures to suppress criticism.  A new tool in this war on speech is the trademark or copyright, where folks argue that criticism that uses even their name is somehow in violation of intellectual property protections.

Of course, this is all so much BS, and courts have been pretty good about protecting speech in these circumstances, but the need for vigilance never goes away.  Example

There's plenty of genuine trademark and copyright piracy out there: people trying to make money off of other people's work, or enjoy it for free. But increasingly, copyrights and trademarks are used by their owners, with the assistance of thuggish lawyers, as weapons to suppress satire, criticism, and comment. We've discussed the trend here before — Forever 21's embarrassing attack on a humor site,Ralph Lauren threatening lawsuits against people who comment on its freakish photoshops of models,Meghan McCain's attempt to use the California "right of publicity" to suppress parody of her awful writing, the TSA attempting to criminalize use of its logo,scummy telemarketers arguing that people criticizing them are violating the trademark in their name, andthe Guinness World Records people reacting to a hilarious screenshot with trademark threats. [Now that I look at it, I think we need a tag for this.] Sometimes the copyright and trademark thuggery goes meta, as whenjackass attorneys send cease-and-desist letters, claim copyright in the letters, and threaten suit if they are released and discussed.

The rest is worth reading, written in Ken's, uh,  trademark style that is both informative and enjoyable.  Like Ken, I have to confess to a deep befuddlement as to the appeal of Louis Vuitton gear, which generally look like brown Hefty bags with a pattern printed on it.  Why someone would go to the effort of copying them seems as odd to me as building a replica of the Peabody Terrace apartments where I used to live in Boston.



  1. Mal:

    OT: Ocean Acidification to Hit 300-Million-Year Max

    Does this article ring true?

  2. A Friend:

    Oh, no, why did you have to go and mention Peabody Terrace again! Worst place I have ever lived. Please give me some peace and let it disappear in my memory...

  3. Richard Palmer:

    I also lived for two tough years at what we called "the ferrous terrace" - as you can see from the picture at the link, it had an odd metallic exoskeleton. As is often the case with ugly buildings, its one positive attribute was the view across the Charles River from the upper floors, which did not include a glimpse of the "Terrace" itself.

  4. john:

    I wonder how copyrighted laws fit in with this. I always took them to be an effort at concealing the law so that enforcement officials could do whatever they chose, but perhaps they serve a second purpose in preventing discussion or debate. ("International" Building codes etc. are one example.)

  5. Mark2:

    You should always make sure your Ducks are accountable!

  6. me:

    Copyright (and patent) law have mutated from the well-intentioned "we ought to make sure inventors and artists are compensated for their work" into inane mechanisms to ensure that anyone is breaking laws and only organizations with legal staff equivalent to a cold war power nuclear strike capacity can milk those folks.

    A lot of the law made tremendous sense when copying IP involved actually copying a physical object (ie if someone was distributing unlicensed reprints of books or video tapes, it made sense to take that as evidence of quite a bit of criminal enterprise). There days, when copying is implicit in the form of distribution, that makes much less sense.

    There are a number of rational approaches to CR (ie limiting penalties for possession of copied content to 3 times cost of the content at the cheapest point of sale, $0 for content that isn't available in a market; using a first sales approach (everyone gets to resell any content; in this approach, the first few sales would be to republishers for millions of dollars); taxability - resale would have to demonstrate a portion of the proceeds deeded to the original rightsholder). Time to nuke existing law and adopt one.

  7. IGotBupkis, Climate Change Denier and Proud Of It.:

    BTW, regarding "Legislating Taste", you may find Tom Wolfe's From Bauhaus to Our House interesting. It's a fairly short read, and one of the two books of his (the other being The Right Stuff) really worth reading. I don't claim that as a maximal set, I've only read three of his books...