07 February, 2010

Infringe Benefits: "Copyright" is One Word, Not Two

Keeping, as I have always had, a few toes in the warm waters of advertising, I appreciate a good brand identity. Since I've lived in Bucharest, I've seen several others who apparently feel the same.  Because they seem to have no problem ripping off someone else's long-established logo and slapping it on their own venue. And the legal powers that be seem to have no problem letting this happen sans enforcement of any kind.  Let's run through a few shameless simulacra, shall we?

Legend has it that Burger King, a recent arrival on the Romanian fast food scene, actually had a try of it years ago before my time here.  It failed (it may not even have been a sanctioned franchise, which, given the tendencies here, seems quite likely), and the Obor eatery remained in business under a new name, Ines Burger, complete with an astoundingly original and innovative logo.
I went only once, and while I'm not a fan of BK (at least as much as I am of McD), this wasn't even up to BK quality.  Ines apparently closed down at roughly the same time legitimate BK franchises opened up around town. Coincidence, I'm sure, but at this writing the empty establishment still stands, logo flapping in the breeze.

I've only driven past this eatery on Pache Protopopescu (say THAT 3 times fast!) but I'm impressed how a touch of graphics warping in Powerpoint or maybe (a bootleg of) Photoshop is enough to create an "original" logo:
Wow, a gun in place of the "r!" How cool is that?!? Nobody else has thought of that before, certainly not at like HBO or anything.  Jeez, not even the font has been changed. Just squashed a bit in the middle is all. And accounting for exposure in the photo, I'd wager not even the COLOR has been altered.

I feel a little guilty here because I like this place, but crime is crime. Once upon a time Bucharest had an awesome Mexican restaurant named Amigos.  Then there was a management dispute, then some of the owners broke away to start another Mexican restaurant. It's only semi-awesome now but still quite good.  What's most awesome of all is their new name and logo, which, of course, is only by the sheerest of coincidences reminiscent of the well-known Stateside chain of the same name and logo. Go for the margaritas, stay for the litigation.

As a US expat, I've met my share of fellow countrymen who have come to Romania in search of the quick exploitive buck and who don't mind taking a few shortcuts to get there.  This popular rock and roll club is one such example, as I know the owner well enough to suspect that he would never been this successful in any country where he might have had to actually work for it. When this club was in the planning stage, I asked what he planned to name it. 
He said "Coyote Ugly," clearly attempting to cash in on the popular film of the same name. I pointed out the obvious copyright problems with that and the shrug I got in reply could have choked a horse.  But apparently some of my concern was taken to heart... only some.  The name was slightly changed, but the titular mascot is none other than the roadrunner-fixated Warner Bros. cartoon character, Wile E.  If the likeness was even considered for being licensed for this venue, I'll go out and buy a hat, and then eat it.

Has EU membership softened this craze and compelled Romania to start maybe policing this egregious trend just a little? Nope, not a single bit. In fact, it's getting worse.  The latest example is no less than a new nationwide television station called Vox News. While they maintain the name is derived from "Vox Populi," any Statesider (at the very least) will instantly hear the derivation from Rupert Murdoch's self-proclaimed "most powerful name in news."

If the virtually-identical-sounding names don't clue you in, how about the absolutely-identical matching letters and colors? This goes beyond a one-off club or eatery, it's a national TV network for crying out loud.  And everyone's okay with this?  Granted, on a personal note, I'd probably just as soon see the actual self-serving ultra-right-wing-biased Fox take a nosedive as much as any cheap Romanian knock-off, but we're talking principle here.  Wonder how long until Vox trots out a Bogdan O'Reilly or Ann Coulterescu...

There are endless more smallish examples to be found in and out of Bucharest, mostly mom and/or pop kiosks who download a Disney character from the Internet and paste their SRL name over it.  But I'm talking about the heavy hitters, who clearly depend on flouting copyright law to establish their identity.  You can talk about oriental Gucci knockoffs, but for some of Balkan's Bogus Best, you need only look up or down the street... or hell, now just turn on your TV.

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