Water Company Goes Trademark Bully on Graffiti Activists Over Hashtag

from the taking-back-the-tweets dept

Here's an idea: if a for-profit business wants to build up a little positive publicity by promoting a public health campaign utilizing a group of hip street artists, that company shouldn't then go on the muscle bullying other art projects over something as dumb as a hashtag it has claimed to have trademarked. This is doubly so when that hashtag is something completely tangential to the company's brand. And yet...

That’s a lesson being learned by Wat-aah, a bottled water company that enlisted street artists in a health-awareness campaign to encourage children to forsake soda for water. Some of the artists designed labels for the brand, while others painted murals or donated artwork for a recent auction to benefit the Partnership for a Healthier America. Many participated in exhibits, including one that Michelle Obama attended in February 2014 at the New Museum in Manhattan.

“It was a common-sense campaign,” said Damien Mitchell, an Australian artist who did a mural in Upper Manhattan. “I didn’t think you needed to have one, especially for water. But, here we are, in America.”

His feelings about the campaign changed in September when he learned that a lawyer for the water company sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Little Italy Street Art Project, a community group that has sponsored dozens of murals in Manhattan’s Little Italy neighborhood.
The dispute was apparently over a hashtag both the health campaign and the Little Italy Street Art Project used: #takingbackthestreets. Little Italy had been promoting itself through social media circles using the hashtag when they received the C&D claiming that said hashtag had been trademarked by Wat-aah and oh my god this world is a really stupid place. Wat-aah (sigh) claimed in its letter that because both the campaign and Little Italy's group used murals to get across their messages, customer confusion would ensue, the sky would fall upon all of us, and all the rest. When contacted, Wat-aah (waaaaaat-aaaaaaaah!) claimed that, hey, we're cool, man, we didn't actually sue them or anything, so chillax, yo.
Dezmon Gilmore, a spokesman for the company, said the Taking Back the Streets campaign, sponsored by a foundation affiliated with the company, was advised to send the letter to eliminate confusion. It was not meant to be malicious, he said, but precautionary, and no further action had been taken.
Meanwhile, a pissed off Wayne Rada, the man behind the Little Italy project, is complaining that if the company had simply asked politely he would have happily stopped using the hashtag because it's just a god damned hashtag and why are we doing this? Since getting the letter, he's complied with the request, explaining that his art project doesn't have enough money to go to battle with a corporation that apparently thinks it owns hashtags.

In the end, there are a great many ways to arrive at the proper behavioral decisions one should make in a given situation. Listening to trademark lawyers who tell you to go after a small art project over a hashtag with claims that are probably baseless is one moral code to live by. Me? I prefer the only single commandment worth following and I'd suggest Wat-aah follow it as well.

Wat-aah concept!
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Filed Under: artists, charity, hashtags, murals, street artists, taking back the streets, trademark
Companies: wat-aah

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