Wednesday, March 29, 2023

On Notice: The Art of Advertising (the) Law


You have legal notice. So says Print Magazine’s February issue. I subscribe to Print magazine and like it quite a bit. If you’re overwhelmed with reading material but wish to keep up with graphic and print design, Print is a great one-stop source. Anyhow, as I was reading this on the subway the other day I noticed something quite peculiar in this particular issue: there were two advertisements and one article dealing only with the subject of trademark and contract law.



One advertisement by the Graphic Artists Guild (“GAG”) informed readers of the dangers of oral agreements. The other advertisement–the one that left me with an Alfred E. Neuman face—was by Little Trees Car-Freshener, warning readers of their registered trademarks in The Little Tree®, The Tree design, LITTLE TREE, LITTLE TREES, and CAR-FRESHNER. The irony lies in the fact that the article covers a brief history of trademarks. This is but another example of how artists and arts organizations are becoming aware of the legal issues pertinent to the making and representing of artwork, but perhaps also to the growing interest in artlaw.


I want to spend a bit more time on the Little Trees ad, so I’ll just say that while I support GAG’s advertisement of the perils of oral agreements, I’m not so sure the information is entirely correct. Needless to say, the fact that an organization would pay to advertise not itself but a legal issue affecting its members is commendable beyond comment. Good for them.


Now, the Little Trees. Keep in mind that advertisement serves the primary role of either introduction to or reinforcement of a product or service to a general public. The aim is to obtain good-will, obtain new customers, sell, and keep current customers. Rarely is advertisement used to warn—much less threaten or scare—the general public (but I have been wrong before so if you have examples let me know). Perhaps Little Trees is highly litigious and, logically following, chose this method of advertisement to warn potential infringers in hope of lowering their legal costs. Perhaps Little Trees is being proactive in policing their trademarks by going above-and-beyond the necessary requirements of notice. Nonetheless, I am also a bit skeptical about the trademark information they convey, citing that their trademark can be used only by them and anyone who has their consent. I’m not so sure about that. In using an image of the ad, and thus of the Little Trees, I need not ask for permission because I am writing a critique and commentary on the ad and trademark law in relation to the Little Trees. Regardless, it’s an interesting and unique advertisement. What do you think?

You can see more of the Little Tree anti-trademark-infringement ads here.


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