We have previously seen how people attempt to cash in on political and social expressions under the increasingly absurd copyright and trademark laws in this country. Now joining this ignoble group is Catherine Crump, 57, of Waukegan, Illinois, who has applied for the trademark on “I Can’t Breathe.” In doing so, Crump not only is attempting to cash in on the words of the deceased Eric Garner, but a nationwide protest movement. So, while tens of thousands have been trying to find ways to protest what they view as police brutality, Crump has been trying to find a way to make money out of the tragedy and the movement.
Crump appears cut from the same greedy bolt as Robert and Diane Maresca, who tried to trademark “Occupy Wall Street” as people were being arrested in the streets.
I have long been a critic of growing copyright and trademark claims over things occurring in public or common phrases or terms. (For a prior column, click here). We have often discussed the abusive expansion of copyright and trademark laws. This includes common phrases, symbols, and images being claimed as private property. (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). This included recently a New York artist claiming that he holds the trademark to symbol π. —pi followed by a period—a design.
Crump paid $325 to file an application on Dec. 13 with the United States Patent and Trademark office. She has refused to comment on her effort to make money off the tragedy. The real problem is that we have a system that now makes such ridiculous and opportunistic claims plausible as common images and phrases are increasingly claimed for private ownership. The result is the opposite of the intentions of these laws. Copyright and trademark claims are increasingly stifling creative, academic, and even political expression in this country.