Of Trademarks, Towers, and Trolls: How Far Does Trademark Protection Reach?

By: Liz Gray

A fantasy novel set in Toronto is the centre of a trademark controversy.  The cover of James Bow’s new book, The Night Girl, features shadowy fantastical figures running along a rooftop with the iconic CN Tower on their left.  The image of the CN Tower was obtained from a stock photo site under a Creative Commons license.

But, to the surprise of Bow and the book’s publishers, the CN Tower’s owner is alleging that the cover violates their trademark.  According to representatives of Canada Lands Company Ltd. (CLCL), the Crown corporation that manages the CN Tower, every image of the CN Tower is protected as a trademark.  They are asking that the cover be redesigned for subsequent print runs, but Bow and his publishers are pushing back.

A lawyer for Bow is asking CLCL to drop the matter.  Ren Bucholz points out that ‘confusion’ is the basic yardstick for trademark infringement, and that The Night Girl is a fantasy novel “featuring a strong female protagonist who helps trolls and goblins succeed in the human world through her work at an employment agency”, rather than a guidebook or map.  It is unlikely, according to Bucholz, that anyone would see this cover and think that CLCL believes the CN Tower to be overrun with trolls.

The matter is still ongoing, but one thing is clear: stock photo licenses might not always tell the full story.

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