We are in the midst of two extremely important days for Americans, one of which is annual, and the other is one of the most important days ever. In light of today’s holiday in celebration of Dr. King’s life and accomplishments, which led the way for the next President of the U.S. to be inaugurated tomorrow, I’d like to discuss a subject that has somewhat marred Dr. King’s legacy . . . his brand. There has been some conversation in the world of trademarks regarding the Martin Luther King, Jr. brand and the strict protectionist enforcement policies exercised by the King Estate. The King Estate has fought numerous trademark battles with t-shirt makers, poster makers, and other memorabilia makers, most of which have shed Dr. King in a favorable light. The fact that a lot of this material is probably protected by free speech and the First Amendment has not stopped the King Estate from enjoining a lot, if not all, of this activity. A recent wave of “cease and desist” letters have been sent by the Estate in a reaction to propaganda and new products which pit Dr. King and Barack Obama in the same picture. A good piece regarding these ironic actions was posted a few months ago at Likelihood of Confusion.
In another ironic twist, however, a recent article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution shed light on some non-action of the Estate, which decided not to attack a white supremacist website which actually used the Dr. King name in its url. Despite this site’s position against Dr. King and all that he stood for, the Estate has reserved its rights without attacking the site, acknowledging that freedom of speech and the First Amendment probably protect its actions. The Consumer Law & Policy blog points out that the Estate also probably realizes the media attention that the site will gain from the litigation, giving the racist site what it wants. It is this same reason that you will not find a link to the site in this piece.