Mexican Gov't Says Starbucks Can't Use Images Of Mexican Artifacts On Mugs... Without Paying Up

from the who-owns-your-culture? dept

Apparently, the Mexican government believes it owns its pre-Hispanic culture. Michael Scott points us to a story about how the Mexican government claims it "owns" the intellectual property on various pre-Hispanic artifacts, which Starbucks was using as imagery on mugs. Specifically, it's upset about images of an Aztec stone calendar and the Pyramid of the Moon from Teotihuacan. I've heard that some countries believe they can automatically claim total "intellectual property" control over certain artifacts, but it's difficult to see what claim Mexico would have under any ordinary intellectual property law.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    cc, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 6:52am

    Cue in the Greeks claiming IP rights over their alphabet. /sarcasm

     

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  2.  
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    Ima Fish (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 7:17am

    "it's difficult to see what claim Mexico would have under any ordinary intellectual property law"

    If the Olympic Committee can have draconian trademarks "protecting" a Greek sporting event which has occurred sporadically since 776 BC, I think anything is possible.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    John Doe, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 7:40am

    Infinity minus a day

    Well, it does seem that copyright lasts for infinity minus a day. To bad the Aztecs aren't around to collect their royalties.

     

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  4.  
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    The Infamous Joe (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 7:41am

    Question.

    Neither you or the article state what type of IP law was "violated". Are they claiming that the symbols are trademarked or copyrighted?

    Either way it's silly, but trademark would make it slightly less silly. Also, if I've made some logic error that renders my entire question null, straighten me out. (It happens a lot on Fridays)

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Bradley Stewart, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 7:41am

    What A Supprise

    from one of the most backward and corrupt governments on the face of the planet. This is a country where you can't even trust the tap water. I can't think of anything that I would rather do than order a cup of coffee in Mexico unless I really enjoyed hospital stays.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    John D., Jan 8th, 2010 @ 7:44am

    The Arabs called...

    ...they want their zero back.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    JB, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 8:22am

    Re: The Arabs called...

    You mean the Indians? The Mayans? Both of them invented the zero (in parallel). Yes, we use a modified version of Arabic numerals (go to the middle east and tell me what a license plate says) but the zero wasn't invented by Arabs.

     

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  8.  
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    SteelWolf (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 8:27am

    Re: Re: The Arabs called...

    Clearly, it's going to be a race to the courts to see who can sue the other for infringement first. ;)

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 8:34am

    Well, if America wants to claim intellectual property on everything, why can't Mexico? While I disagree with the state of intellectual property in general, in this specific case I think that it's only fair for Mexico to get compensated. After all, if anyone broke an intellectual property law from an American corporation there would be a huge legal battle and big corporations are the ones that are pushing for every country to adopt stronger intellectual property laws. So let them adopt stronger IP laws and let them use those same laws against those who lobby for stronger IP laws in pro IP countries.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 8:36am

    Re: What A Supprise

    "from one of the most backward and corrupt governments on the face of the planet."

    Sounds like the U.S. to me. In fact, I would argue that the Native Americans were much better off until the foreigners came along and destroyed them.

     

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  11.  
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    Trails, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 8:38am

    Surely

    Surely those, at least, are in the public domain by now?

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 8:38am

    Re: Re: What A Supprise

    One must realize that so many countries are far worse off now because of the current and past influence that America (and other countries) has had on them.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 8:39am

    Re: Surely

    The public domain doesn't exist.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    John Doe, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 8:43am

    Re: Re: The Arabs called...

    From the courts interpretation of copyright and patent law, there can be no simultaneous invention. Somebody had to be first and therefore gets the copyright/patent. Of course the courts and lawyers will make out like a bandit while trying to make this determination. ;)

     

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  15.  
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    Ima Fish (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 8:53am

    Re: Re: Surely

    Where is Disney going to get its movie ideas for the next few decades?!

     

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  16.  
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    303.Rick (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 8:53am

    I wonder who will be the first to claim, IP on the Marijuana leaf....

     

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  17.  
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    Farrell McGovern (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 9:05am

    It ain't so simple as standard IP law...

    They may be able to trademark certain symbols...but what can be a real game killer is cultural appropriation. Mexico considers the afore mentioned symbols to be cultural symbols of their nation, and of the indigenous they are descendants of, the Aztecs. There are still over a million people in Mexico who speak the Aztec language as their native language.

    As for the Greeks, well, if you started selling coffee mugs with the Parthenon on them at a place as famous as Starbucks, I am sure the Greek Government would have something to say about it...similarly, if you put King Tut, or other well known symbols of Egypt on the cups, Dr. Hawass would be on them so fast their heads would spin!

    Or to put it in a way that Americans would understand...imagine if mugs had the Seal of the President of the United States printed on it...I am sure that President himself would raise a stink about it! It's that level of symbolism that we are dealing with here.

    ttyl
    Farrell

    ....amateur anthropologist, among other things.

     

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  18.  
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    stevestephen (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 9:05am

    Watch out Speilberg!

    Every country can claim the rights to the dinosaur species from their lands and territories!!! Any and all profits from Jurassic Park movies will now go to paying rights to species use and representation.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    interval, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 9:06am

    Re:

    @AC: "Well, if America wants to claim intellectual property on everything..."

    We do? News to me. Individuals IN America may want to do that, but the US government gives away tons of IP all the time. Its the one thing the government does that endears it me.

     

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  20.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 9:07am

    Re:

    Does America claim IP on the image of the Liberty Bell?

     

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  21.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 9:14am

    Re: It ain't so simple as standard IP law...

    I can understand wanting to defend the sanctity of certain symbols, but that doesn't change the fact that these are ancient artifacts to which nobody should be able to claim any sort of right. The Mexican government today has little to do with pre-Hispanic Aztec art (less even than Isa Dick Hackett has to do with her father's novel.)

    I don't like it when a bunch of cheap merchandise sucks the significance out of a symbol, but it's not exactly new. Look at the Yin-Yang, or the American flag (the latter has retained its meaning for most, but you can't deny that it turns up on a BUNCH of shoddy crap so some merchandisers can make a quick buck)

    I'm not sure your analogy holds up. The presidential seal is an official government mark, essentially a logo, that carries connotations of endorsement -- somewhat different from the Parthenon or an Aztec calendar.

     

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  22.  
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    stevestephen (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 9:15am

    Re: It ain't so simple as standard IP law...

    Also, look how we have taken bodies, art, and cultural treasures from non-white-American burial sites, and sold rights to the imagery for text books and publication. Yes, our government has done, and continues to do that.

    Sounds outrageous when some other country does it.

     

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  23.  
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    Farrell McGovern (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 9:19am

    Analogy...

    It's about how important that country considers a symbol. Of course, the Presidential Seal is not an equivalent of the Aztec Stone Calendar, but their importance and the pride their respective countries ascribe to them are.

    ttyl
    Farrell

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 9:28am

    Re: Re:

    The government does tons of R&D and gives the results to evil rich corporations to patent. The American public hardly benefits from their tax funded investments.

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 9:29am

    Re: Re: Re: Surely

    Something is only in the public domain if a big corporation is using it. If a non wealthy individual uses it then it's not.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 9:33am

    Re: Re: Re: What A Supprise

    Yes because all of these countries were so freaking awesome a few hundred years ago.

    I know America could be doing A LOT better but America does give considerable amount of aid to other countries while the Chinese and Russians sell weapons by the boat load to developing nation's warlords so they can keep killing each other.

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    arcnemisis, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 9:33am

    "The Big Bang" wants all its creations back or everyone is to pay royalties on everything. Cease as desist.

    (1) New Mail

    Great, I just got a summons for saying "The Big Bang".

     

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  28.  
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    btr1701 (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 9:37am

    Re: It ain't so simple as standard IP law...

    > if you started selling coffee mugs with the Parthenon on them
    > at a place as famous as Starbucks I am sure the Greek
    > Government would have something to say about it

    They can talk all they like but I don't have to listen. I can sell images of something that existed on this planet for millennia before the Greek government even existed and there's nothing they can do about it.

    Same with Mexico.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    John D., Jan 8th, 2010 @ 9:38am

    Re: Re: Re: The Arabs called...

    This needs to stop. I am going to load my underpants full of... Wait... that wasn't the Arabs either. Did the Arabs invent anything patentable?

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 9:38am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: What A Supprise

    "Yes because all of these countries were so freaking awesome a few hundred years ago."

    Well, they weren't perfect, but when people started migrating to America they really oppressed the natives big time. Just look at the history.

     

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  31.  
    icon
    btr1701 (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 9:38am

    Re: Analogy...

    Importance and pride in symbols are all well and good but they do not give rise to a legal monopoly and the ability to ban others from using them.

     

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  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 9:45am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: What A Supprise

    "I know America could be doing A LOT better but America does give considerable amount of aid to other countries while the Chinese and Russians sell weapons by the boat load to developing nation's warlords so they can keep killing each other."

    I find the notion that America is innocent and right and everyone else is guilty and wrong hard to believe. The (U.S.) media may portray America as this perfect nation that often doesn't act out of selfishness but I'm not buying it. Just like any other country America acts in its own best interest, it doesn't act in the best interest of others, and there is probably a lot of harm that America does to other countries that doesn't ever make it on our broken mainstream media (some of which makes it on the Internet).

    For instance watch the movie American drug war. Did you know that Afghanistan didn't have a heroin (export) problem until after America got involved? The CIA was selling crack at one time and they probably still sell drugs. The U.S. media portrays all these other governments as selling all sorts of weapons to criminals and such but don't believe for a second that the U.S. isn't involved in the same exact thing and that the U.S. is any better. I highly doubt that the U.S. is that much better than other countries and our the very broken nature of our mainstream media just raises more suspicion against the U.S.

     

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  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 9:46am

    What about the Statue of Liberty? It is more or less an equivalent in that it is a large landmark.

    I live in New York City and I see the image of Lady Liberty plastered all over coffee mugs and shot glasses, miniature statues, snow globes, and pretty much anything else you can think of. I doubt all those merchandisers are paying royalties to... who? NY State Govt? Us Govt? France (since they created it)? It is illogical.

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    Pat, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 9:57am

    Mexico is NOT the 51 state

    .. meaning Mexico is a sovereign country as in Mexico can create laws that violate US IP laws.

    So this blog post is complete bullshit. The linked-to article references a Mexico agency that is deciding on the fees owed by Starbucks. Sounds like a regulatory action within Mexico., i.e. completely up to the Mexican government.

     

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  35.  
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    stevestephen (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 9:59am

    Re:

    As of the late 90's most all owners of New Your's landmark buildings registered them as trademarks and/or copywritten works. Filmmakers have to pay to depict any skyline image of New York where the Chrysler Building, World Trade Buildings, Empire State Building, etc, are depicted.

    Somehow the Statue of Liberty has fallen under public domain (I'm not an expert). Just like many American master's paintings once they become icons and representation of popular culture.

     

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  36.  
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    stevestephen (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 10:02am

    Re: Re:

    That would be "New "York's"

     

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  37.  
    identicon
    inc, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 10:15am

    Re: Mexico is NOT the 51 state

    Where in this post did Mike say US IP laws applied? The way I under stood, it is hard to make such claims under IP compared to how most countries apply their IP laws. Also while Mexico is sovereign there are treaties and trade agreements which may or may not come into play.

     

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  38.  
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    Cayce Pollard (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 10:15am

    Money making

    ".similarly, if you put King Tut, or other well known symbols of Egypt on the cups, Dr. Hawass would be on them so fast their heads would spin"

    Looks like Egypt is in for a bonanza royalty on all those dollar bills with pyramids on them. And I hope Spain is going to get a good royalty from the Mexicans for their use of the language.

     

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  39.  
    identicon
    demian, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 10:26am

    Re: What A Supprise

    @ Bradley. You're exaggerating! yeah there's corruption and yeah there's a crime, but I live in mexico, I can drink water from the faucet and have never had a problem because of that, also I'm 27 and have never suffered a violent crime, and I rode the bus for many many years.

    So it's not that bad, believe me, it's bad if you live in a dangerous zone (like the ghettos are dangerous over there). You should come and visit before saying that kind of stuff. Just don't go to border cities (Tijuana, Juarez...) xD

     

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  40.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 10:30am

    Re: Re:

    If a building is a trademark, the trademark only applies to whatever field it is granted in. If you trademark the Empire State Building for your real estate company, there's nothing preventing someone using it for t-shirts, etc. There's no such thing as a global-use trademark.

    As for copyright, that would only apply to the building itself, NOT pictures of the building, artistic representations of the building, etc., whose copyright would belong to whoever created them.

    Plain and simple, you're wrong. Please state a source.

     

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  41.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 10:34am

    Re: Re:

    From the US Copyright office's website:

    Does copyright protect architecture?
    Yes. Architectural works became subject to copyright protection on December 1, 1990. The copyright law defines “architectural work” as “the design of a building embodied in any tangible medium of expression, including a building, architectural plans, or drawings.” Copyright protection extends to any architectural work created on or after December 1, 1990. Also, any architectural works that were unconstructed and embodied in unpublished plans or drawings on that date and were constructed by December 31, 2002, are eligible for protection. Architectural designs embodied in buildings constructed prior to December 1, 1990, are not eligible for copyright protection. See Circular 41, Copyright Claims in Architectural Works

    Since all those buildings were constructed prior to 1990, it is NOT possible for anyone to hold a copyright on them. You're still wrong.

     

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  42.  
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    imbrucy (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 10:41am

    Re: Question.

    Trademark would be ridiculous because Trademarks are only valid when used in commerce. Can someone please show me where the Aztecs are using their symbols in commerce?

     

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  43.  
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    The Infamous Joe (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 10:51am

    Re: Re: Question.

    I said "slightly less silly", in that, there is zero way that there could be a copyright case, but if the Mexican government has some sort of "abandoned property" law that allows them to claim abandoned properties, they could "own" the ruins, and then use them in some sort of commerce, as a logo of sorts. Hey, it's *possible*. :)

    Still silly, don't get me wrong.

     

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  44.  
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    Paul Alan Levy (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 12:43pm

    But Starbucks is caving in!

    Noted from the underlying article:

    Starbucks says it is working with Mexico to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. It says the mugs have been removed from its shop shelves pending the discussions.
    *****
    A company statement says the supplier of the mugs felt it made good faith efforts to offer payment and obtain permits.

    Probably NOT because of any worry about liability, but because the reason for using these images is (presumably) to make Starbucks seem sympatico with Mexican culture, and hence to appeal to a particular demographic, and the last thing Starbucks needs is to be denounced by the Mexican government as "stealing our culture."

     

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  45.  
    identicon
    Jesse, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 3:39pm

    So Europeans come to North America, rape and pillage, and claim intellectual property rights over the remnants? Now I've seen it all.

     

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  46.  
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    Chargone (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 5:03pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What A Supprise

    never mind the number of democratically elected leaders of various nations assassinated by US agents and replaced with dictators who were more inclined to go along with US schemes...

    the list of US actions screwing up other countries/peopels is no less extensive than anyone else's in this regard, really. (possibly more so if you take an average over time :p)

     

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  47.  
    identicon
    Colette, Jan 9th, 2010 @ 7:25am

    Re: Infinity minus a day

    If a copyright lasts for infinity minus a day then logically it would follow the Mexican government's copyright would expire on December 12, 2012 when the Mayan calendar ends.

    Hmmmmm, who is the attorney who will take them to court on December 13, 2012?

     

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  48.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 9th, 2010 @ 11:10am

    Personally, I like the twist the host of a late night show put on this when he mentioned it last night.

    His retort to what Mexico is saying is that why should they complain about someone in the US using their "culture" when so many Mexicans are illegally crossing the border to use ours?

     

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  49.  
    identicon
    known coward, Jan 11th, 2010 @ 8:36am

    starbucks

    should pull the mugs put a blank space on the mug and say and in print say the picture we wished to use was protested by the butt head mexicans, It costs to way to much to fight the issue in the courts, so we just think they are a bunch of BHM's. Love starbucks

    /fantasy off

     

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  50.  
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    stevestephen (profile), Jan 11th, 2010 @ 9:44am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I would encourage you to read up specifically on film industry usage and current practice. As an example, the Chrysler building considers all ornamentation as protected. Most anything beyond a vague skyline silhouette will be fair game for protection or attempt at compensation.

    Certain physical buildings or places are protected under trademark and/or copyright law. Over 150 buildings are registered trademarks. A building in public view is generally not protected; however, the artwork upon the building may be. For example, footage of a skyline may not require a license, but footage of an individual building, especially if it is unique or has art or ornate architectural designs applied to it, may require a separate license. If you want to use an image of a building or place that is not as it normally appears, or is not ordinarily visible from a public place, it may be protected under trademark and copyright law. When you review motion content, you need to analyze it to determine whether any item depicted in the motion content will require trademark clearance from the trademark owners. For example: Are there items depicted in a piece of motion content that contain a trademark or trade dress? Is a building with artwork depicted in the motion content? Is a building depicted whose owners use it as a registered or unregistered trademark? Does the motion content have a mark or trade dress that is confusingly similar to another owners mark? If so, you may need a license in addition to our license from the trademark owner, his or her estate or agency.

     

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