Legality vs. Morality

A white super model is photographed wearing a Dior® vest to the Met Gala that says “Peg the Patriarchy.” It’s reported that “Luna Matatas, a Toronto-based sex educator, artist, podcaster, and queer woman of color” owns a trademark registration in Canada for PEG THE PATRIARCHY for clothing.[1]

Dior and the model are appropriately called out for the appropriation.

Dior’s providing the vest to the model was wrong but was it trademark infringement?

The Canadian trademark registration covers shirts, so putting PEG THE PATRIARCHY on any type of garment in Canada would be trademark infringement.

But what about in the United States? There’s no U.S. trademark registration. I don’t know whether Matatas sold PEG THE PATRIARCHY items in the U.S. but let’s assume she did. Has Dior infringed trademark rights?

Under U.S. law, you can’t have trademark rights or get a trademark registration for a word or short phrase that’s use is “merely ornamental.” Use of a trademark across the front of a piece of clothing is considered “ornamental use.”

Based on what I see in the photos, the use of PEG THE PATRIARCHY is “merely ornamental”, ergo, Matatas doesn’t have exclusive rights to put that phrase on clothing in the United States and Dior hasn’t infringed.

Basic morality should be the same everywhere but trademark law differs from one country to another in lots of ways. It’s important before beginning use in a different country to figure whether it’s legally permissible.

Shout out to Miles C. for bringing this fiasco to my attention.

[1] The listed owner of the registration is Nicole Ghanie.

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