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Sorry Chrysler: You Don't Own Ad Rights To Detroit

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On: Sat, Jul 2, 2011 at 9:23AM | By: Chris Weiss

Sorry Chrysler: You Don't Own Ad Rights To Detroit

Well, here's a brilliant victory for the little guy. Though I went on a pretty big rant against Chrysler in its lawsuit against a Detroit-area clothing company that used the popular "Imported From Detroit" slogan in a line of clothes, I really suspected that the court was going to side with the much bigger, more powerful automaker. But a Detroit federal court has ruled against Chrysler in trying to stop Pure Detroit from using the phrase, paving the way for the clothing company to keep selling "Imported from Detroit" clothes.

My argument against the move wasn't so much a legal one, it was more of a public image/moral one. I thought it was somewhat reprehensible and downright ironic that Chrysler/Fiat decided it could advertorialize the plight/rise of Detroit and then sue a small, local clothing manufacturer for daring try do the same. The clothing company Pure Detroit summed it up pretty well in saying that "its whole purpose in using the slogan is 'amping up' local culture"—something that the Chrysler ad appeared to be trying to do. Apparently, Chrysler was interested inexploiting amping up local culture so long as that local culture could help it sell cars. God forbid anyone else uses a similar tactic in selling anything else.

If anything, the company should have offered some type of licensing deal, thereby keeping its message alive on T-shirts (i.e. traveling billboards). Instead, it decided that hawking overpriced t-shirts was more important than looking like an upstanding company, a company that's in the AUTO business. To me, it looked like a bitter, global Goliath trying to stomp a small, local David.

But "stomp" isn't really the way it played out, anyway. More like "slip, fall on its face, and embarrass itself." According to Inside Line, Senior U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow ruled that Chrysler did not make its case that it would suffer irreparable harm should Pure Detroit continue using the slogan (probably because they're not a clothing company). The judge also ruled that the phrase "Imported From Detroit" is not a trademark-protectable phrase because it simply uses "the geographical origin of the goods as the city of Detroit." Surprise, surprise; Chrysler doesn't own the concept of importation from the entire city of Detroit (it may not be a thriving technological or industrial base these days, but we're confident that products other than Chrysler 200s are built in Detroit).

In simpler terms: Chrysler legal FAIL. Oh yeah, and also: Chrysler public relations FAIL. You could have just enjoyed free advertising; you could have even spun it like you were investing in a small, local clothier to help bolster the whole image portrayed in your ad campaign. Instead, you tried to play hardball and looked like a bunch of lightweight jerks striking out. Good for you.

Hopefully a few heads roll over this one.

Chrysler and Pure Detroit may still go to court, but at least the latter will be able to sell its clothing in the meantime. You can find the full line of Pure Detroit's 'Imported' T-shirts on its website.


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