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Who Owns ’Pride?’: US District Judge Issues Injunction

Monday Jun 23, 2014
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Who owns the word "pride?"

The ongoing custody battle of sorts over "pride" appears to have shifted in favor of the plaintiff when a United States District Court judge issued a preliminary injunction against a pair of New York party promoters for infringing on the trademark "NYC Pride" in marketing materials unrelated to Heritage of Pride, the local non-profit organization who claim legal rights to the name.

A press release issued by Heritage of Pride:

Judge Colleen McMahon of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York has issued a preliminary injunction against Matinee NYC, Voss NYC and their proprietors Brandon Voss and Jake Resnicow, barring them from using Heritage of Pride/NYC Pride’s "NYC Pride" trademarks, trade name and logo in connection with, among other things, concerts that are scheduled to take place during New York’s Pride Week, which takes place from June 22 to 29, 2014.

Heritage of Pride, which owns the rights to several NYC PRIDE trademarks, had filed suit against the defendants on June 10, 2014, alleging that their use of "NYC Pride" in connection with concerts and events that they were promoting for Pride Week infringed its trademarks and related rights.

"Although NYC Pride had hoped to resolve this matter without having to resort to legal action, we are grateful to the Court for its decision and pleased that we have been able to protect the NYC Pride trademarks during the key Pride Week period," said Chris Frederick, Managing Director of NYC Pride Since 1984, Heritage of Pride has organized New York City’s official slate of events commemorating the Stonewall Riots of 1969, which are often cited as the start of the modern gay rights movement. This year marks the 45th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

Earlier this week, the defendants in this case issued the following statement:

New York gay nightlife promoter Brandon Voss and business partner Jake Resnicow became the targets of a far-reaching lawsuit initiated by Heritage of Pride last week. Heritage, to its credit, organizes the annual Gay Pride Parade, but has now expanded its pride offerings to include an entire weekend of new dance events this year. Voss and Resnicow’s long running Pride Celebrations date back to 2009, but conveniently Heritage now claims they are the only organization able to throw such "NYC Pride" celebrations.

Voss maintains it is "absurd" that any organization should "own" Pride, especially one, which he feels, is using this as a tactic to funnel revenue to itself. Resnicow adds that, although touting itself as a non-profit and charitable organization, Heritage, by its own admission, gives only 10 percent of net income to charity. In 2012 that figure amounted to a few thousand dollars, this per an email from Heritage itself, which is included in its public court filings.

In its own trademark application, Heritage claims the date of first use of "NYC Pride" as May 2011, but the LGBT community has for decades focused and converged on New York City every June for that has come to be known as "New York City Pride." It is a  weeklong series of informally connected celebratory events held in honor of the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, widely regarded as the founding moment of gay pride. Pride is a lifestyle, celebrated by many every single day, not just once a year. It is an inclusive, fluid and intangible movement,especially in its birthplace of New York City. Pride is the property of no one.

Court papers on the battle can be viewed here.

Comments

  • Anonymous, 2014-06-21 02:16:51

    In the spirit of Gay Pride, it unfortunate that Heritage of Pride and Brandon Voss and Matinee were not able to resolve their issues. Now that it has become public here are some thoughts: Regarding the small amount of grant money mentioned by Brandon Voss, Heritage of Pride is not a grant giving organization. Think of non-profit hospitals, churches, etc-- most of the money raised by Heritage of Pride goes to put together the Pride Parade, the events on the Pier, and other smaller events. Heritage of Pride has only one full time employee; the rest are volunteers. Organizing the Sunday parade, Friday Rally on the Pier, and Sunday Pier Dance costs lots of money -- the first two events are free to participants. The beneficiaries are the tens of thousands of people, including LGBT youth (that cannot go to bars and clubs), who can participate in a LGBT community event. As for the intellectual property issue, Heritage of Pride has grown the organization by enlisting Sponsors and Promotional Partners -- all under the umbrella of NYC Pride. The name and logo has promotional value that helps raise the money -- why else would Brandon Voss and Matinee use it, especially after receiving a cease and desist letter. Other venues and promoters have either 1) become a partner of Heritage of Pride, or 2) refrained from using their intellectual property. Heritage of Pride doesn’t extort people for fees, it leverages its intellectual property rights to recruit sponsors and promotional partners. No one is obligated to pay; they just can’t use the likeness of the name and logo to promote their own for-profit events. That is standard business practice . As for "who owns Pride", who owns Apple? Everyone eats apples, but when it comes to certain products like iPhones, the Apple Corporation clearly "owns" Apple. The US Trademarks Bureau granted NYC Pride certain exclusive rights associated with the name and logo. A Federal Judge thus far has enforced those rights. That doesn’t preclude a Papa Party event the same weekend. Junior Vasquez is having an event Sunday night at BPM, but not under the label of Official Pride Event -- Junior Vasquez uses his own talents and reputation for the event along with the high tech sound system of BPM. On Friday night, BPM is hosting an Official Pride Event, but in the spirit of Pride, BPM has been selling advance tickets at only $20. Matinee is welcome to have a party the same weekend. The issue is when Matinee and Brandon Voss use the exclusive intellectual property rights and all the goodwill and promotional value of NYC Pride for their own profit. A Matinee Party during gay pride weekend is fine, but an Official NYC Pride Matinee Party is an infringement based on Trademarks law, as it currently stands. Brandon Voss says that people should be able to decide where they spend their money. Of course that is true. But using deception to entice people to spend money on events which have nothing to do with the NYC Pride Organization is not a free choice. Its a fraud. Finally, the point of Gay Pride is to have a time for our community and supporters to come together and celebrate -- to march in the parade, to feel like we belong, to feel proud; and also to party. We should be grateful to have the Heritage of Pride organization that makes this all possible no matter how much money anyone has or doesn’t have. We should all support the Heritage of Pride for what they have done for the LGBT community. Support can come in many different ways -- from sponsorships to just marching in the parade. If someone doesn’t want to support NYC Pride, fine, but don’t use what all the volunteers, participants, donors, and sponsors have created for your own money making machine.


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