The Occupy Wall Street Movement has resulted in many differing legal and political issues. Most of these disputes have revolved around first amendment rights to protest. However, other legal controversy has come to light from the movement concerning trademark and patent disputes.
The College on Conference Composition Communication Intellectual Property Annual Report (CCCC-IP) is a publication in its seventh year of production. This conference produces an annual report on techniques and etiquette of researching news media as well as research and teaching composition (Amidon 29). The Occupy Wall Street Movement utilized social media techniques of organization that emulated methods used during the protest taking place in the Arab Springs (Amidon 29). Various hashtag keywords such as #occupywallstreet, #occupywallst, #ows, or #occupy gained popularity as the movement grew. Also, the Tumblr blog page “We Are the 99 Percent” fueled traffic, in turn further fueling the movement.
Although the social media followings on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr are quantitatively substantial, Malcolm Gladwell argues their actual significance. Gladwell claims that former examples of protest are bound on more concrete examples of injustice. He states that social media organized protest are generally built on weaker ties and looser political platforms (Gladwell 4). Social media allows individuals to connect to things of indirect significance compared to more hands-on methods of unity due to the convenience of social media. Thus, how does this loose organization of the movement through social media impact trademark legalities?
The social media popularity of the Occupy Wall Street Movement opened the door of capitalist opportunity deriving from the movement. Many T-shirt and retail companies quickly entered the trademark or patent race in hopes to gain ownership rights to these phrases or keywords. However, many involved in the movement openly opposed these trademark requests claiming that capitalist financial gain from the movement directly contradicts the movement’s focuses. Moreover, over 55 trademark applications have been filed on variations of the term “occupy” (Amidon 30). One, of which, in particular stemmed from a Rocawear T Shirt that read “Occupy All Streets”. Rocawear affirmed that no proceeds from this T-Shirt would be shared with the Occupy Wall Street Movement. This raises an interesting debate, should the “occupy” title be allowed to be branded for financial gain?
Many argue no on the sole basis that no outside entity can claim ownership of this group created identity. However, many can also argue that since there are no hierarchy of leaders involved with the movement that there is no individuals or group of people associated with the movement that could alternatively claim ownership. The conclusion of the CCCC-IP’s annual report was that Trademark laws in conjunction with the 1976 Copyright Act protect political commentary or parody as free speech under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Thus, in regards to the example of Rocawear, they halted production of the “Occupy All Streets” line due to the severe criticism received for failing to share proceeds with the movement (Amidon 30). However, in a court of law, Rocawear could have definitely made a legitimate case as to the “Occupy All Streets” T-Shirt line being protected as intellectual property of political commentary (Amidon 32). Gladwell’s writings support the opinion that if this movement was built on mechanisms outside social media, Rocawear’s situation would have a greater chance of being in violation of trademark or copyright infringements.
Gladwell, Malcolm. “Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted.” The New Yorker. 4 Oct. 2010. Web. 1 Apr. 2012. <http://hnrs353.wikispaces.com/file/view/GladwellMalcolm.pdf>.