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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.

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Comments on “Mexican Gov't Says Starbucks Can't Use Images Of Mexican Artifacts On Mugs… Without Paying Up”

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The Infamous Joe (profile) says:


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)

The Infamous Joe (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 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.

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 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)

demian says:

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

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Farrell McGovern (profile) says:

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.


….amateur anthropologist, among other things.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

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.

btr1701 (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

stevestephen (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

stevestephen (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Pat (user link) says:

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.

Cayce Pollard (profile) says:

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.

Paul Alan Levy (profile) says:

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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