Saturday, April 30, 2011

trading my mark

Living in Mexico without a sense of irony is like living in Palm Springs with a bad slice.  You can do it, but life will not be very pleasant.

That little adage popped to mind while I was walking past a new taco stand in our neighborhood.  I hear it is quite good.

But I did not have food on my mind when I first saw the place.

It is called “Scooby’s Tacos.”  And that face on the wall is not of the owner or his pet.  It is, of course,  Scooby the Dog.  Famous cartoon character.  And the property of Warner Brothers.

In November, I spoke to the Latin American Bloggers’ Conference about American and Mexican copyright law.  And the basic rules we learned in kindergarten.  Like, not taking other people’s property.

That is a tough act to sell in Mexico.  Even though Mexico has a very thorough copyright and trademark law, you might suspect it is administered by Ali Baba and the forty thieves. 

Cultural icons are treated as just that down here.  If it is popular, it belongs to the public.  And if it belongs to the public, there is no perceived problem in simply taking it and using it for your own purposes.

Mickey Mouse decorates the ice cream truck.  Batman shills for the carnival on the merry-go-round.  Disney princesses decorate almost everything imaginable.

And I will not even mention (but I guess I just did) the drug cartel-sponsored pirated CDs and DVDs.

Mexico is a country where little goes to waste.  And if a trademark seems like a popular draw, users will slap it on anything that moves – or is stationary, for that matter.

I suspect, as a former lawyer, this creative piracy should offend me.  After all, it is theft.

On the other hand, I am a bit ticked off at Disney and Time Warner who have effectively turned the copyright and trademark laws from a recognition of intellectual property rights to a monopolistic Chinese wall around aging icons.  I suspect if either company owned the Mona Lisa, they would add a 600 year old grandmother clause to the law.

But I really don’t care.  In fact, I have started playing a little game to discover the most creative (and jarring) use of trademarks.

One of these days, I may draft a post concerning the finalists for the award.

Nominees are always welcome.


tancho said...

I am amused and amazed at the amount of knockoff logos and names these folks come up with. I guess they envision that the car will come to a screeching halt in front of their place of business, thinking that the prospective customers cannot tell the difference between a real place and the south "franchisee".
My favorite is in Ciudad Obregon, where on the main drag a prominent sign displayed " Morton's Steak House", at that time it was the 3rd attempt at having a famous restaurant, to no avail. It only lasted about a year.

NWexican® said...

Okay but ewww, your analogy using "Palm Springs with a bad slice" hehe. Years ago while in TJ I saw a Louis Vuitton golf bag for 50 bucks and I almost bought it for my bro-in-law. Poor sucker had spent 300 dollars for a LV purse for my sister. She called her expensive Lovely Vinyl purse.. Trademarks are for sissies.

Kim G said...

In 1998, Disney managed to have a permanent extension to the copyright on Mickey Mouse (and other works) written into federal law. Apparently neither they, nor congress, could bear the thought of Mickey Mouse passing into the public domain like every other work of art.

Talk about corporate welfare!

So when Mexicans put Mickey on everything, I don't feel so bad for Disney as Mickey (who debuted in 1928) ought to already be in the public domain.


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where (weirdly enough) we think the laws should apply equally to everyone, no matter how inconvenient or unprofitable.

ANM said...


Weave a circle round him thrice
for he on derring do has fed
and drunk the milk of sweetened vice,
it's jail for him I truly dread.


(apologies to Coleridge)

Steve Cotton said...

One of my favorite restaurants in town is the Red Lobster. And, in one of those strokes of serendipity, it is far better than the shoddy holder of that name up north.

Steve Cotton said...

But that is one of the things I like about semi-libertarian Mexico. The laws apply to everyone -- we ignore them equally.

Steve Cotton said...

Tony Tiger burning bright
On my wall I paint tonight
What commercial hand denies
Happy eaters of my pies?

(No apologies to Blake. What is it wit that silly unsannable "symmetry?)

Steve Cotton said...

The potential metaphors to Palm Springs are always tempting. You can only imagine the drafts I rejected.

Louis Vuitton perfectly sums up so many related places.

Art Moretti said... correlation.

Steve Cotton said...

All of life is connected in so many ways. I was going to point out that choosing a dog for a taco stand icon may be just as inadvisable as choosing Sylvester for a Chinese restaurant. But where would we be without cultural stereotypes?

Kim G said...

My own little joke thus runs like this:

Q: What happens when you cross Korean and Mexican food?

A: Tacos al Pastor Alemán.


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where we don't much fancy either dogs or cats as food.

Steve Cotton said...

Good one that.

When I lived in Laredo, we wondered how much cat and dog we had eaten when we thought we were earting goat during our visits south of the Rio Bravo.

Babsofsanmiguel said...

It's not only Disney and Time Warner, as you well know. Two experiences I had when designing and building restaurants.........first a club, the owner came up with the name "The Velvet Elvis". Part of the decor were those kitschy velvet elvis paintings from Mexico. I could do that - took tons by truck to the states. About 10 years later, a BIG letter came from The Elvis group saying "Cease and desist". The owner decided to fight it......but, of course he lost. The place after being renamed was never the same.
The other incident was when we filed a DBA for a bar-b-que restaurant up in East Texas. I had come up with the name Range Rover as the decor was very woodsy, etc............within a month! a letter came from Range Rover company saying, "no, no". I found all this stuff very interesting........humorous and aggravating.

ANM said...

The same as with your silly impenetrable wit-tiddity.


Steve Cotton said...

Ah, but of such tales are our lives woven.

Steve Cotton said...

I would say: sticks and stones. But I suspect pot and kettle is more like it.