According to the New York State Office of Economic Development as portrayed in this morning’s NY Times article, I have just infringed on New York’s 36 year old “I love New York” trademark. That’s right, inserting any symbol between the three letters of the alphabet I-N-Y is interpreted as an infringement on their trademark. But so be it! I do question New York. And if there are any copyright or trademark attorneys out there, I’d like to question them as well. Here’s what I want to know…
What harm is done to the “I love New York” trademark by the café’s logo?
Is this not a situation of “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”? I mean, seeing that coffee cup inserted into the logo actually calls to mind the “I love New York” campaign in a positive way, doesn’t it?
Is New York saying that any symbol placed between those three letters is an infringement? If I created a website from the title of this post, would I infringing on that trademark?
What impact does this sort of thinking have on creativity?
The last question is the most important one. The ability of one artist to riff off (not ‘rip off’) another is a cornerstone of the creative process. It’s called inspiration and every artist in every medium does it. What cinematographer hasn’t been inspired to imitate the lighting in a Caravaggio painting? And what’s the harm to society when they do? Nothing. In fact, this kind of creative imitation revives and refreshes the original artwork.
You might ask of me, “Why are you so concerned with a café’s trademark battle in a blog about film and television?” To me, it’s all the same thing. Reading about the struggles of the Everyman Espresso with the State of New York I became convinced that we’ve gone too far with this intellectual property concept. Using legal threats to “protect” a marketing campaign is really a detriment to the State. It shows that New York has no sense of irony or humor and that it is very petty and extremely stingy. Shutting down this type of use of their brand actually reduces the brand to a tourist gimmick.
Thankfully, this is not a court decision or anything legally binding. It does, however, illustrate the power of large institutions – corporations or government bodies – to throw their weight around and use their resources to intimidate. The threat of a lawsuit often has the same effect as suing and winning in our system where the money to defend oneself is required to exercise our “freedom.”
The fact that the State Office of Economic Development is threatening a small business at the same time as it is trumpeting how friendly New York is to business is not lost on the owner of the Everyman Espresso. And don’t you love that it’s called the Everyman? I’ll drop by this weekend to lend my support and I encourage everyone to do the same.