Monetizing the Goodwill of New York’s Heroes
The al-Qaeda terrorist attacks that took place on the morning of September 11, 2001 resulted in the death of nearly 3,000 individuals. Sadly, most of the carnage took place in New York City, where 2,753 people were killed at the site of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, which—eerily—will forever be known as Ground Zero.1 Of those killed in New York, many were hero first responders, including: 23 New York City Police Officers (NYPD), 37 Port Authority Police Officers (PAPD), and 343 members of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY).2 In the months following this world-changing event, New Yorkers exhibited astounding resilience and the best of our humanity. Accordingly, those of us New Yorkers who lived through the experience and toiled dutifully throughout its aftermath remember our solemn pledge—“We will never forget!”
While the brand equity associated with the NYPD and FDNY has never really been lacking, the acts of extreme valor displayed on 9/11 by police and fire personnel led to a meteoric rise in the value of their official department logos. Consequently, eager to capitalize on the heroism of super-hero-like public servants, vendors throughout New York City and beyond quickly found a way to profit off first responders’ goodwill by peddling in counterfeit trademark merchandise adorned with the NYPD and FDNY insignias. Just three months after the ominous attacks, while reporting on the proliferation of NYPD/FDNY counterfeit trademark sales, the New York Times estimated that together the departments “lost $10 million or more in proceeds” while a process of unjust enrichment filled “the coffers of unauthorized merchants.”3 Having never witnessed a catastrophic event even close to the magnitude of September 11th, the City of New York was ill-equipped to properly enforce its own intellectual property interests, and “the failure of the Police and Fire Departments to anticipate and capitalize on the value of their trademarks until more than two months after the disaster could be viewed as a significant miscalculation.“4
Over time, the City of New York began to assert a more strategic approach toward preserving its valuable intellectual property. In 2003, billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg’s mayoral administration announced the establishment of “the New York City Marketing Development Corp. (MDC).”5 A not-for-profit entity, this “local development corporation” was created to enhance New York’s “licensing program and other projects involving the use of the city’s intellectual property.”6 In 2007 the City of New York’s trademark licensing functions were further streamlined through an agreement where the MDC’s functions were assumed by NYC & Company, another not-for-profit organization which was contracted by the City of New York and charged with “tourism-related services” and “attracting large-scale events to the city.”7 NYC & Company’s interest in the preservation of intellectual property is supported by the New York City Law Department through its legal counsel, affirmative litigation, and contracts/real estate divisions.8 As the primary beneficiaries of a significant portion of the profits attained through the sale of licensed merchandise, the New York City Police Foundation and the FDNY Foundation (both not-for-profit entities) in turn provide necessary support, equipment, and outreach for the benefit of their respective agencies of concern.9 This convoluted arrangement of organizational relationships provides a framework for the protection against trademark infringement while ensuring that the monetization of brand equity is properly channeled for the public interest.
As we approach the 16-year anniversary of 9/11, let us always be mindful that the goodwill associated with the City of New York’s intellectual property is the direct result of the honor and sacrifice shown by its uniformed heroes.
Edward Wyatt, Officials Irked as Merchants Cash in on City’s Heroic Logos, N.Y. TIMES (Dec. 14, 2001), http://www.nytimes.com/2001/12/14/nyregion/officials-irked-as-merchants-cash-in-on-city-s-heroic-logos.html [https://perma.cc/WJP2-G2D9].↩
Jeffrey D. Friedlander, Safeguarding the City’s Intellectual Property, N.Y.L.J. (Aug. 18, 2008), http://www.nyc.gov/html/law/downloads/pdf/ar081808.pdf [http://perma.cc/JPL2-MMSG].↩