Deaths, Intellectual Property, Minority Issues, Racism, Trademarks, Violence

Trayvon Trademark? An ATL Debate

Danzig here. Over the last few days, I have tried to stay out of the Trayvon Martin story. Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old black teenager, was shot and killed by one George Zimmerman. Whether or not Martin’s death was a murder or a justifiable homicide has been a matter of some debate.

The shooting has picked up national attention, and it’s shedding yet another ugly spotlight on race relations in America. I’m on the same page as Elie regarding most of his frustration. But earlier this week we learned that the slain teen’s mother had filed a trademark application for “I am Trayvon” and “Justice for Trayvon.”

Elie thinks, in a nutshell, that this is a good and proper strategy to preserve Trayvon’s memory and prevent random people from profiting off of his death. But I have to disagree. I think his family members are wasting their time and energy.

Keep reading for details on the trademark applications. Grab a Coke and a bag of chips, and watch the two of us digitally duke it out in today’s ATL debate….

Here is the relevant section from Central Florida News 13:

Tuesday an attorney for Trayvon Martin’s mother says her pursuit of a trademark for slogans containing the slain teenager’s name is to keep people from exploiting the boy’s name.

Monday News13 first reported that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office filings by Sybrina Fulton are for the sayings “I am Trayvon,” and “Justice for Trayvon.”

The applications, filed last week. A representative for Fulton says the trademarks were not filed for “profitable purposes.”

Now, on to the debate.


The problem here is that filing a trademark application is not worth the time, or the effort, or the money for Martin’s family. I understand Fulton is concerned about people exploiting her son’s memory, and I know the intellectual property regulatory system is one official way to prevent others from doing just that. But I really don’t think anyone is going to make any significant profit off of Trayvon t-shirts. And, even if unintentionally, Fulton’s filing automatically raises questions about her motivation, regardless of whether she’s actually trying to profit from the trademarks.

Even so, the family will almost certainly not have the resources to enforce the trademark. They will not be able to do anything about Times Square street vendors — who mostly sell copyrighted stuff anyway — or other independent t-shirt makers. And I am pretty sure Urban Outfitters is not going to try to cash in on this.

Just because Sinbad wore a Trayvon shirt on a morning show doesn’t mean people are getting rich off of Trayvon’s name.

Moreover, t-shirt sales are a non-issue. Fulton’s application doesn’t cover apparel. The Daily Mail notes:

The patent application shows that she is specifically looking for control of the use of those phrases on CDs and DVDs, so it should have little to no effect on the creation of t-shirts or hoodies for the cause.

To me, this is bizarre and might even reek of opportunism, because it is really hard to make money off of CDs. Even big-name rock stars and record companies struggle with it. Is anyone really worried about some local Florida artist getting rich off of a tribute EP? It seems like preemptive preparation to cash in if some A-list celebrity wants to pick up Trayvon’s banner.

(For the record, if the family feels like they deserve compensation, that is completely okay. But it would seem that the logical way to go about doing so would be to file a wrongful death suit against Zimmerman. This trademark thing seems like a needless runaround.)

But more importantly, by trying to preserve his memory with the trademark, Trayvon’s mother is actually tarnishing it by implicitly tying it to finances. For comparison, a similar tragedy happened here in Oakland several years ago. A Caucasian police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man named Oscar Grant in the back.

The fallout here in the Bay Area was massive and lasted for months, and even years. A nearly identical slogan went viral: “I am Oscar Grant.”

Instead of becoming protected intellectual property, however, it was encouraged as a local rallying cry. Walking around the city, it is still impossible not to see the words — and Oscar’s image — in spray paint, on posters, or on stickers all over the place. Sure, maybe someone is making money selling Oscar Grant t-shirts. But mostly, the words and his likeness serve as a constant reminder to the community of what happened. As with Trayvon, someone concerned about Oscar’s hypothetical and posthumous exploitation maybe could have trademarked “I am Oscar Grant,” but that doesn’t mean it would be the right or most effective way to preserve someone’s memory.

But that’s just me. Now let’s see what Elie has to say….

(hidden for your protection)

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