McTrademarks and McSkools

Today Labour were describing the Government’s Charter Schools as McSkools, and we’ve probably all heard stories of McDonalds trying to assert their trademark of almost McAnything, so soon armchair lawyers were talking of legal action against Labour. To complicate matters Labour also used the golden arches ‘M’ in their poster (which they’ve since removed).

The ‘Mc’ prefix has become synonymous with cheap, basic, and standardised. It’s a common piece of language as the UCSD point out:

California Law Review: “McLaw: Lawyering for the masses (about easily accessible and inexpensive basic legal services).

“Forbes magazine: “McArt” (about mass-marketing art stores that are open 7 days a week).

Erma Bombeck, syndicated columnist: “McStory on the paper’s front page” (about the preoccupation of the media with certain stories e.g. the octoplets)

And McJob is even in the dictionary.

So Labour are using well-established and common language and there’s little doubt that calling anything McSkools is legal. The only arguable bit is using the golden arches trademark,

(credit: Labour, and this guy for taking a screenshot)

Of course parodies of McDonalds happen all the time, especially in the artistic communities who remix. In the US their law recognises that there’s a balance between giving trademark holders complete control within our society Vs restricting effective means of speech that draw upon our shared culture. Who should have this control has been a continuing debate within New Zealand artistic circles because New Zealand artists lack remix rights — unlike our Australian and United States neighbours.

An example that comes to mind is back in 2001 TePapa removed tshirts that parodied company brands known to employee Pacific Island workers for low wages. A decade later TePapa do not have images of their purchase online.

In 2001, Kihara’s T-shirt series Teuanoa‛i – Adorn to Excess which parodied well-known corporate logos were exhibited at Te Papa and later added to the national museum’s collection. The T-shirts featured Kihara’s quirky take on well-known brands, turning logos such as The Warehouse to The Whorehouse and KFC to KKK. The exhibition created controversy in the media and raised legal questions about copyright versus artistic expression. Following legal advice, Te Papa removed three of the 28 T-shirts from its exhibition, but purchased the entire series. (cite)

The Greens have a Copyright (Parody and Satire) Amendment Bill that seeks to give New Zealand artists the same rights as Australian and United States artists. The question now seems to be whether these rights should include trademarks too – not just copyright.

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