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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 1/28/20

Government Organizations Shouldn't Enjoy Trademark Protection

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Emblem of the United States Marine Corps.svg.
Emblem of the United States Marine Corps.svg.
(Image by Wikipedia (commons.wikimedia.org))
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According to its web site, Shields of Strength "provides fashionable, functional, and durable Christian fitness jewelry and accessories." Those items include military "dog tags" engraved with quotes from scripture and sometimes the logo of the armed forces branch the customer belongs to.

When the Military Religious Freedom Foundation complained, the Marine Corps Trademark Licensing Office ordered the company to stop combining scripture references and the Corps' emblem.

Most commentary on the dispute centers around "religious freedom" versus "separation of church and state," but those seem like side issues to me.

When I served in the Marine Corps, many of my comrades wore crosses, St. Christopher Medals, and other religious symbols on the same chains as their dog tags. As long as a Marine is paying to have his own custom dog tag made with such things incorporated in them rather than hanging separately, and as long as that tag includes the relevant identification information, I just don't see the problem.

What IS the problem?

According to MCTLO, "[T]he USMC Trademark Licensing Program exists to regulate the usage of Marine Corps trademarks such as the Eagle, Globe and Anchor worldwide. "

Even assuming the correctness of "intellectual property" claims like copyright, patent, and trademark, such claims don't past muster when asserted by the US government or its subsidiary agencies such as the Marine Corps. This is especially true of trademarks.

While the justifications for copyright and patent law have their own clause in the US Constitution ("to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries") US trademark law is justified in terms of Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce.

The Marine Corps isn't a private commercial entity. Nor should its symbols -- which date back to 1868 in current form, to 1775 in various forms, and ultimately to the British marines the US based its service's composition and mission on -- be treated as the Marine Corps' commercial property.

Just as written works created by government employees pursuant to their jobs fall into the public domain under copyright law, official government symbols should fall into the public domain under trademark law.

The Marine Corps logo is a piece of evolving history. It doesn't belong to the Marine Corps as an organization, or even to the individual Marines who make up that organization. It belongs to all of us.

 

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Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


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3 people are discussing this page, with 4 comments


Rob Kall

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Comment by Rob Kall:

to some extent, I agree, but if people were to use the images in a way to tricks or defrauds people, lets say a badge that a perpetrator uses to induce a woman to have sex with him instead of being arrested, that should be prevented.

Submitted on Tuesday, Jan 28, 2020 at 4:22:48 PM

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Thomas Knapp

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Not really the same thing. If I show up at your house wearing a Terminix [TM] uniform and telling you I work for Terminix [TM], then take your money and don't spray for roaches, or use the house access to steal your stuff, I've defrauded you whether I've violated Terminix's [TM] trademark or not.


This company isn't pretending to be the Marine Corps to defraud people. It's selling tchotchkes that Marines like to the Marines who like them. Those Marines don't think that the company is the Marine Corps, or that the tchotchkes are "official issue," any more than they think the guy giving them an eagle, globe and anchor tattoo is the commandant of the Marine Corps.

Submitted on Tuesday, Jan 28, 2020 at 5:40:12 PM

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Lance Ciepiela

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Yes, even if it's not Marine Corps 'issued' there are so many concerns cashing in on that Marine Corps Emblem and all the other 'branches of service' as well. The Marines don't seem to get too upset with 'copy infringement' - busy enough 'in the air, on land, and sea'.

Submitted on Tuesday, Jan 28, 2020 at 8:38:45 PM

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Thomas Knapp

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Reply to Lance Ciepiela:   New Content

When I was in the Marine Corps, you could get just about anything you could imagine with the Marine Corps emblem on it. Or just the letters "USMC."


Or a picture of a bulldog or whatever. Every time I went to a Marine Corps school, some graphically talented guy would design a class t-shirt, and we'd all buy one. It always had the emblem on it, and I'm sure the kids never consulted the trademark office.


As for tattoos, the eagle, globe, and anchor were quite popular. Personally, I went with a grim reaper with the letters "USMC" under it, but if I'd thought harder about it, the emblem probably would have been my choice. I guarantee the tattoo artist didn't ask for a license to tattoo the emblem.


As for the religious content on dog tags, I'm surprised the Marine Corps allows dog tags that aren't absolutely uniform, with nothing but the required info (when I was in, that was last name, first name, middle initial, date of birth, blood type, and, hmmm, religion, I think).

Submitted on Tuesday, Jan 28, 2020 at 10:29:19 PM

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