Has Celebrity Trademarking Gone Too Far? | The Triangle

Has Celebrity Trademarking Gone Too Far?


Photograph courtesy of Nancy Rivera/Ace Pictures at Tribune News Service.

On Oct. 10, Kylie Jenner posted a video on YouTube singing “rise and shine” to her daughter, and a new  meme was born.

Twitter blew up with various “rise and shine” memes, which were mostly at Jenner’s expense. Despite the targeting, the reality star took the jokes in stride and even posted her own meme on Instagram. However, Jenner went viral once again two weeks after the video was posted. This time though, she was on the receiving end of backlash over her filing legal documents in order to trademark the phrase “rise and shine.”

Jenner experienced another round of backlash earlier this week after claims were made that she sent cease and desist letters to an Australian apparel label over their use of “rise and shine” on various shirts. And even though Jenner denied ever sending those letters, it did not stop Twitter from getting upset over the idea of the cosmetic mogul abusing her ownership over such a common phrase. So, where do we draw the line? Celebrities use trademarks in order to protect their art or their work from exploitation, but what if they abuse this system? Will these trademark battles wade into murkier waters?

The Kardashians are no strangers to public outrage over trademark issues. In June of this year, Jenner’s older sister, Kim Kardashian-West, experienced massive backlash over her trademarking of the word “kimono.” The name of her shapewear line just so happened to be the same word as a traditional Japanese garment, and many Japanese people and Japanese Americans were outraged over the trademark.The mayor of Kyoto even wrote a letter to Kardashian-West asking her to drop the trademark out of respect for Japan.

The reality star did eventually drop the trademark and apologize but not before enough public outrage had been expressed. Kim and Kylie are not the only celebrities who have made attempts to trademark words and phrases. Taylor Swift wanted to own “This sick beat,” Justin Bieber’s wife, Hailey Bieber, trademarked her name one week after her wedding, and former quarterback Tim Tebow even wanted to trademark his prayer posture.

Every time a celebrity attempts something of the sort, there is a flurry of coverage and public backlash. But can celebrities be blamed? With Instagram and an unstable merchandising industry, it makes sense that celebrities might want to be a bit more cutthroat when it comes to protecting and controlling as many parts of their public personas and their work as possible. The big problem lies in the fact that the rules are not always clear when it comes to the trademarks.

Is this something we need to worry about? To my understanding, not really. While it may seem as though celebrity trademarks are out of control, that’s generally not the case. While there is an uptick in the number of trademarks — the Harvard Law Review reported that from 1985 to 2018 there were 6.7 million trademark applications filed — the rise of trademarks has been met with an appropriate response. The Patent Trademark Office implemented various rules, which include forbidding the hoarding of trademarks. The notion that celebrities will start trademarking every little word and phrase is not a real possibility and will not happen. Also, a new system has been put in place where trademarks can be audited to see if they are being used appropriately or are being abused. If they find evidence of the latter, the trademark can be repealed.

Most celebrities don’t even bother to register trademarks, mainly because the majority of infringement comes from fans, and the last thing they want is to turn their fanbase against them. We’ve seen this come to play with all the backlash from fans that celebrities have experienced over trademarks, which has come to act as a check to this rise of trademarks. We can all breathe a sigh of relief and relax when it comes to trademarks. Even if the system may seem as though it’s overflowing in this new era of marketing, it has its own checks and balances.