Intellectual Property

The Cheapening of a Tourism Slogan

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In the 1990s, New York State's tourism board let the trademark on its "I ? NY" slogan lapse, encouraging a flood of unlicensed souvenirs carrying the famous logo. Since then the state has renewed its trademark and, in an attempt to rejuvenate the "brand," plans to crack down on what The New York Times calls "unlicensed fakes." But what exactly is inauthentic about T-shirts, towels, salt and pepper shakers, beer can holders, and paperweights that declare "I ? NY" without state authorization? Surely they clothe the torso, dry the hands, dispense the seasonings, keep the beverage cold, and hold the paper down at least as well as their licensed counterparts. Is the sentiment itself less sincere because it's not officially certified? Although it's easy to understand why the state wants its license fees, it'd hard to see how consumers are shortchanged by unofficial souvenirs.

In addition to the revenue from licensing, the state wants to control the types of merchandise associated with Empire State love. Ashtrays and lighters, for instance, are right out. The desire to control the messages linked to "I ? NY" has gone to decidedly unlovely extremes. The Times reports that the Pataki administration threatened to sue Milton Glaser for trademark infringement over his post-9/11 "I ? NY More Than Ever" logo. Who is Milton Glaser? The graphic designer who developed the "I ? NY" symbol in 1977 and let the state use it free of charge.