I must confess up front: I have a deep and abiding hatred for Louis Vuitton products.
It's not just that they represent ass-ugly pretentiousness. It's a post-traumatic-stress-disorder thing, a leftover of a late '90s drama in which I prosecuted someone for interference with a flight crew for an incident involving a small dog in a Louis Vuitton bag, an incident which involved one side asserting improper restraint with a bejeweled dog leash and the other side asserting the forcible throwing of said dog for emphasis, and which incident eventually led to a professional Kennedy assassination theorist accusing me of participation in a wide-ranging civil rights conspiracy with an international airline conglomerate.
Protip: never accept a case assignment if your normally poker-faced supervisor is snickering when he brings you the file.
Anyway, what I'm saying is take me with a grain of salt here, people. But my bottom line is this:
[The hardest part of making this image was the time I wasted Googling "most pretentious font."]
There's plenty of genuine trademark and copyright piracy out there: people trying to make money off of other people's work, or enjoy it for free. But increasingly, copyrights and trademarks are used by their owners, with the assistance of thuggish lawyers, as weapons to suppress satire, criticism, and comment. We've discussed the trend here before — Forever 21's embarrassing attack on a humor site, Ralph Lauren threatening lawsuits against people who comment on its freakish photoshops of models, Meghan McCain's attempt to use the California "right of publicity" to suppress parody of her awful writing, the TSA attempting to criminalize use of its logo, scummy telemarketers arguing that people criticizing them are violating the trademark in their name, and the Guinness World Records people reacting to a hilarious screenshot with trademark threats. [Now that I look at it, I think we need a tag for this.] Sometimes the copyright and trademark thuggery goes meta, as when jackass attorneys send cease-and-desist letters, claim copyright in the letters, and threaten suit if they are released and discussed.
Anyway, as recent events demonstrate, Luis Vuitton is a repeat offender in this category. Louis Vuitton prides itself in having a large staff of aggressive lawyers. Now, these people are human beings, and as such have value in God's eyes. Everyone needs a job. Some people have jobs, say, coding the nude-NPC skin mods for popular computer games, and their mothers love them too, in a prone-to-sudden-weeping sort of way. So: like TSA agents and obscenity prosecutors, Louis Vuitton's lawyers are technically people with rights. More specifically, they are people trained and paid to be censorious asshats.
The latest example: the Penn Intellectual Property Group at University of Pennsylvania Law School created a poster for its symposium on "fashion law." The poster, in an as-close-to-explicit-as-possible reference to Louis Vuitton's hard-earned reputation for aggression-to-the-point-of-censorious-thuggery, used the same Louis Vuitton pattern you see above, minus my comment. Of course Louis Vuitton lawyer sent a snotty legal threat through its attorney Michael Pantalony. Fortunately, Penn told them to piss off. As Eugene Volokh comments, that was the right stance in response to such attempts to suppress commentary, satire, and parody, especially in such a patently non-commercial context. (Check out the comments to Volokh's post to see links to examples of past Luis Vuitton overreaching.)
I know you're tired of the mantra, but here it is again: the American legal system allows thugs to suppress speech through frivolous lawsuits and the threats thereof. This is especially true when there is a power disparity between the threatener and the threatened. There are at least three ways to deal with it:
1. Learn about, and support, proposed anti-SLAPP laws and other legislation calculated to protect freedom of expression.
2. Support institutions like FIRE and the Electronic Frontier Foundation that crusade to protect freedom of expression and defend victims of censorship.
3. Call out the censorious asshats. Write about instances of censorship like this one. Name and shame the lawyers as well as the clients.
In a perfect world, enough people would write about this that a Louis Vuitton bag would be seen as a signifier — not of "I'm affluent and fashionable" (or even "I'm a follower"), but "I support censorship and am indifferent to free expression." Then perhaps Louis Vuitton would pay a price.
Hat tip to Walter Olson.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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