Whenever and wherever catastrophe strikes, an opportunist lies in wait. As soon as a hashtag takes flight on Twitter, some hustler’s milking that meme for profit, slapping it on T-shirts, mugs, and schwag.
Case in point: two people filed trademarks for “Boston Strong,” a mere two days after the bombs rocked the U.S.’s premier marathon. There’s no question that this is crass capitalism run amok. I mean, have these people no shame? They barely waited for the blood to dry before they started diving for disaster dollars.
Both applicants want to use the trademark for apparel and accessories. One is a Massachusetts resident (who is being a Masshole, may I add), and the other is Born Into It, a custom T-shirt company. That company has filed trademarks for other colorful examples of Boston vernacular, including “Chowdaheadz” and “Wicked Pissah Stuff.”
In response to the media flak they received, Born Into It, released a statement, claiming that they “had no idea it [Boston Strong] would grow to where it was and become such a big rally cry for our city.” They say they just wanted to protect the phrase for the city and had no intention of enforcing the trademark, merely preventing anyone else from profiting from it.
Or is such opportunism just the American way? I know that in our sensational culture, nothing is sacred anymore. But still, there should be a grace period for certain things, like the desecration of an athletic event that used to be a pride of a city. And disasters where children die and are maimed, and where the havoc-wreakers are almost children themselves.
While some may admire the gumption of these opportunists, the law may ultimately rule against them. Both attempts to trademark the phrase may fail because “Boston Strong” has been so widely used and can’t be connected exclusively with any one organization or person. It’s part of the public domain. For example, after September 11, 2001, the government deemed that no one had exclusive rights to the phrase “9/11.”
That being said, plenty of phrases have been trademarked successfully. On September 11, 2001, passenger on United Flight 93,Todd Beamer, said, “Let’s roll,” which the former Todd M. Beamer Foundation (now Heroic Choices) has exclusive rights to. Emeril Legasse owns the right to shriek “BAM!”, and sports announcer Michael Buffer has made $400 million from licensing his catchphrase, “Let’s get ready to rumble.”
So yes, trademarking a phrase can be lucrative if defended properly (Paris Hilton has had trouble enforcing her ownership of “That’s hot.”), which is why I don’t buy Born Into It’s claims of trying to protect the phrase for all of Boston. And all you quick buck makers out there, dare to practice some dignity, and stop trying to turn tragedy into treasure.