August 23, 2007

Who puts whom in a corner?

You have probably seen them. Those cute infant-toddler shirts with quotes, phrases, and images inspired by popular culture. You can buy those shirts everywhere from CafePress, on-line retailers, shopping malls, and even street corners. I am sure no one ever thought some of those phrases would be trademarked. If you follow the link, you will find that Lions Gate is going after people who print a quote from their movie on t-shirts. The defendants are producers of baby t-shirts and products.

The case will be difficult to prove. The phrase that can't be said has been "borrowed" by various companies since the movie came out 20 years ago. Lions Gate sells approved merchandise with the phrase that can't be said. But until now, they have failed to adequately defend their own trademark. After 20 years, is the trademark valid? I did a quick search for it at the USPTO and couldn't find it. Was it ever registered?

If Lions Gate wins this case, can you imagine other movie studios going after people for similar things? If you can't say the phrase that can't be said, how many other phrases can't be uttered? Maybe CafePress should be nervous - so many of their baby products are inspired by movie utterances.

Ethics aside, this case illustrates a danger to the freedom of speech. Who knew a common phrase could be trademarked? Should we be concerned when we use the word Apple or ask where the beef is?

Let's take another tack. The movie studios are benefiting from essentially free advertising. Think about all of those babies wearing shirts with the phrase that can't be said. Their parents will remember that movie and perhaps want to see it again through video purchases or rentals. Perhaps movie studios have a right to protect their intellectual property, but at what cost? Are they willing to risk losing free advertising and potential customers? Apparently they are.

1 comment:

  1. janet clare2:52 PM

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