Keep calm and sue : copyrighting the public domain

Brand news: A rights battle is raging over the British wartime slogan “keep calm and carry on”, the FT reports.  Mark Coop, owner of  Keep Calm & Carry On Ltd, has been selling items bearing the slogan since 2007 and acquired the EU trademark in April. However, he is not the only person selling such items. Among the others are independent traders on Ebay, who have now found their products delisted. Intellectual proerty adviser Trade Mark Direct has applied to have Coop’s rights cancelled. Trade Mark Direct argues that the phrase, which was created by the British government in 1939, was already in common usage before Coop attempted to corner the market.

Comment: I’d be the first to defend intellectual property and brands. They are the life blood of any business. However, when your whole brand is someone else’s work, or when you attempt to enforce rights in something you did not actually create, however legitimately you came by those rights, I think you’re on shaky ground — ethically if not legally. In this case, sensing a trend, Coop has built a business around something that was in the public domain and then tried to stifle competition. Top marks for exploiting an opportunity. No marks for originality, authenticity and fairness.

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