Illinois Woman Files For Trademark On Phrase 'I Can't Breathe' Because This Is America Damn It

from the infringing-protest dept

You know, when you write for Techdirt, you see so many silly trademark stories that you become sort of numb to them. Even when it comes down to people, multiple people, attempting to trademark simple words and phrases because we’ve reached a point where we think anything can be owned with the proper government documents, you don’t really react. But then you hear about a woman from your home-state thinking it’s okay to trademark the phrase of a man who died at the hands of police hundreds of miles away, the phrase that was the last he was ever to utter, the phrase that has become a rallying cry for a protest designed to seriously take on the issue of police abuse, and you find that you still have those emotional nerve endings within you.

An Illinois woman is seeking to trademark the dying last words of the New York City man who gasped “I can’t breathe” while being arrested by NYPD cops for selling loose cigarettes. In a December 13 application, Catherine Crump petitioned the United States Patent and Trademark Office to register the phrase for use on hoodies and t-shirts for men, women, boys, girls, and infants.

I just threw up in my mouth a little bit. The depravity here astounds me. First, even if the phrase coined by a deceased now-icon of a protest qualifies for trademark by the person who didn’t utter it, the idea of it is so distasteful that I hope for that reason alone this application is denied. But the claims within the application are astounding.

The 57-year-old Crump, who lives in Waukegan, a city 40 miles north of Chicago, contends that she has been using “I can’t breathe” for commercial purposes since “at least as early” as August 18, one month after Eric Garner, 43, died following a confrontation with police on Staten Island.

Keep specifically in mind the claim that Crump claims her use in the immediate aftermath of Garner’s death has always been commercial in nature. Keep it in mind both because it serves beautifully that Crump is both a horrible person and likely a liar when she says the following.

In an interview, Crump said that she had “nothing to do with the Garner family,” and had not spoken to them about her trademark bid. While claiming that her purpose for marketing “I can’t breathe” garments was not to make money, she declined to disclose what other reason there was for her trademark filing (which cost $325).

Riiight. Say whatever you like, you’re milking the death of an unarmed black man from hundreds of miles away, and now attempting to lock up the ability to do so for yourself. I’d like to think that nobody else would think to do something like this, but I’d probably be wrong. Worst of all, any attempt to enforce this trademark, in the event that it was granted, would hinder the ability of the protesters to get their message across. That would bring the horror of this full circle: you locked up the dying words of a man whose death can’t be protested effectively because of your doing so. Brilliant.

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Comments on “Illinois Woman Files For Trademark On Phrase 'I Can't Breathe' Because This Is America Damn It”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Let her patent it

Trademark, not patent.

And cashing in on death and misery is an old, old tradition among the greedy segment of the population. Just watch what happens when some national tragedy happens and all the domainers — who are some of the most vile, abusive sociopaths on the planet — rush to register domain names so that they can cash in on the search traffic.

Ninja (profile) says:

If she used the term in a line of scuba diving equipment not trying to cash in protesters anger it would probably be more effective and she wouldn’t face a good load of backlash in the face.

Then again there is the fact people buy Guy Fawkes mask from semi-slave labor granting Warner (was it?) their penny for the wonders of copyrights.

Ramon Creager (profile) says:

Trademarks and Patents as a Lottery

People seem to be treating these as a lottery. First-come-first-served! Easy money! I didn’t create this but I was clever because I was first! This does nothing at all to promote trade, and if the USPTO grants this it is playing right into this perception of lottery and easy money.

Unfortunately, given the sorry record of our government to date, I can also no longer dismiss the thought that the USPTO will be urged to grant this as a political move to throw a monkey wrench into the protests.

David says:

Re: Trademarks and Patents as a Lottery

That’s not the definition of a lottery but of a Ponzi scheme.

Of course, it also is the embodiment of the original American Dream: arrive on a wide plane, put up fences, declare yourself the rightful owner and shoot the people who had already been “trespassing” on your land long before you ever set foot to it. Do that while being fully supported/backed-up by a “rightful government” willing to defend your “rights” with heavy artillery.

This “stake your claim” mentality is pervading the areas of “Intellectual Property”: the important thing is not being the first in some well-travelled place. The important thing is being the first who chases everybody else off at gunpoint.

John85851 (profile) says:

Can common phrases by trademarked?

This is probably a rhetorical question, but since when can common phrases be trademarked? I can understand phrases used as slogans like “I’m lovin it” or “You’re in good hands”, but how is anyone able to secure a trademark on something that people are already using?

The bigger problem is that the people at the trademark office may be so overworked that they simply rubber-stamp this and let it go through without realizing the consquences.

Anonymous Coward says:

57-year-old Crump, is either a racist or a greedy person seeking to profit off an innocent person’s death. Either way, that makes her a horrible person.

This is yet another example of horrible people flocking towards Intellectual Privilege monopolies. Trying to create a permission based society.

You can’t protest with your “I can’t breathe shirt”, unless you bought it from me, Catherine Crump. Your entire protest movement is infringing on my Intellectual Privilege.

This is what a permission based societies looks like.

Anonymous Coward says:

Could Crump be intentionally sacrificing her reputation for the greater good? Imagine that she gets the TM, and then starts making infringement claims left and right. Local police (and maybe federal alphabet agencies) start raiding print shops and arresting street vendors all over the country, including those who are giving away materials during protests and demonstrations. This could only help cast LEAs in an even worse light, and inflame the outrage directed at them…

Or am I giving her too much credit?

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