I recall, a few years ago, filmmaker Kevin Smith talking about how the state of NY demanded money because a background player (I think a dancer) in Clerks II was shown wearing an “I ♥ NJ” t-shirt, and NY, somewhat infamously, holds the trademark on “I ♥ NY.” I don’t recall all of the details, but I’m pretty sure Smith said that a significant sum of money had to be paid to the state of NY. Of course, that’s an abuse of trademark law on multiple levels. The likelihood of confusion is likely nil, and even if they were arguing dilution, that seems unlikely as well. The t-shirt was in a movie, not for sale by the movie. Another time, NY threatened the guy who created the I ♥ NY design in the first place when he tried to make a new version after September 11. Because NY is an obnoxious trademark bully, that’s why.
The latest in NY’s over-aggressive trademark bullying comes courtesy of the NY Times, which reports that CMG Worldwide, the agency that NY uses to “police” its trademark, sent a legal nastygram to NYC coffee shop Everyman Espresso. Apparently, one of the co-owners of the shop, Sam Penix, had “I [coffee cup icon] N Y” tattooed across his fingers, as seen below:
And, from that, the coffee shop built something of a logo, and sold merchandise with the logo, which included the fist as a key part.
Photo from jkwoo
Lots of people, quite reasonably, find this bullying ridiculous, and as Gothamist points out, some even volunteered to set up a legal defense fund.
Everyman Espresso’s owners decided to fold, telling CMG that it would “cease all use of its mark.” You would think that should be enough, but because NY state is positively obnoxious, CMG sent back a letter demanding licensing fees:
“We expect that any entity that infringes on the rights of our client compensate it for unauthorized use,” the lawyer, Clare Neumann, wrote on May 20, requesting “an accounting of all gross revenues generated during the period when the I ♥ NY® Trademark was used” to help her set the appropriate penalty.
Penix rightfully points out that this feels like extortion, and it’s doubly ridiculous because the entity threatening his coffee shop is the Empire State Department for Economic Development, who is basically trying to extract money from a popular coffee shop, while getting it to stop promoting NY.
The lawyer representing NY claimed that trademark regulations “prohibit companies from using any part of a trademark.” But that’s flat out untrue. There are all sorts of situations where you can use a trademark, especially if there’s no likelihood of confusion (which is absolutely the case here). If NY argued dilution, there might be a case, but I’d love to see how this harms NY and its mark in any way. Because it doesn’t.
Coincidentally, I’ll be in NYC next week, staying blocks from Everyman Espresso. I don’t even drink coffee, but feel like stopping by to support the store, just because trademark bullies suck.