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Can Copyright Challenge Copycats in AdLand?
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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Ah, yes; the copycat.

Copying the success of others is nothing new in the advertising world. Indeed, when we look around, we can see an ad and name several brands that tried the same strategy. Many people would agree with the statement that there are no longer any new ideas, just new people who use them. Yes, even the wordsmiths in our industry have decided that "copying" is the bad word, and "appropriation" is the better, more accurate term.

Whatever the correct term may be, AdLand is very good at it.

We bring this up because Converse is causing some waves in the legal system. The brand, now owned by Nike, is suing nearly three dozen companies to stop creating and using like products to its Chuck Ts. Converse believes that its logo and its shoe design could fall under copyright, and the following companies are guilty of copyright infringement.

But do they have a case?

Legal experts are saying no. The law folks are saying that consumers must be able to look at a certain brand or design and immediately identify it or confuse it with the infringed brand in question. For example, if we created a line of athletic wear called Nikee and had a check mark instead of a swoosh, and people got us confused with Nike, we could be sued for copyright infringement.

Therefore, not only does Converse have to prove that the 31 other brands readily copied the Chuck T designs, but that consumers would leave those brands confused as to if they bought real Chuck Ts or fake ones.

Could that be happening? Possibly. Is it being reported? More than likely, no.

Perhaps there is more to this story than where we're looking. Maybe companies should stop trying to copy Converse and try to create the next American icon. Or, maybe Converse should take the "appropriation" as flattery and use all the good hype to create something new. 

But you get the gist. If the courts aren't going to work, lend your hand to something productive.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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