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Many people online want to abolish trademark law, or at least change it, because we have all seen how so-called "global" trademarks can be abused to punish small local operators on the global internet. Theoretically, trademarks are meant to only operate within what's considered their geographical scope and within their "trade." On the Internet, however, many argued earlier that geographical scope had no meaning--and supposedly it did at least in the context of the InterNIC/ICANN administrated .com top-level domain--making it seem that anyone with a sufficiently powerful trademark could now dominate the entire globe's space for that mark. Worse, a trademark registered only in a limited (yet moneyed) jurisdiction like the US or the EU could affect other jurisdictions. Also, again for certain limited commodities like virtual estate on the .com top-level domain, trade limitations were not enough restriction as there can only be one owner of "mcdonalds.com". Perhaps many people also feel the growing mental abuse that brands assail us with as an ungood development in the history of humankind, and the legislation that protects them--trademark legislation--should necessarily be ammended or repealed.

It surprises many people, though, that the original purpose of trademark legislation was to protect--not the corporation--but the consumer. A trademark was an assurance of a manufacturer's quality. Given strong protection for trademarks, it's very unlikely that a consumer would buy a can of Campbell's Soup only to find themselves poisoned by a third-rate knock off skimming off of Campbell's good reputation. And if they were in fact poisoned by such a can of soup, they would at least know whom to sue.

The thing is, though, that since the 1980's, many companies have quickly divested themselves of the messy business of producing things, spinning themselves into pure marketing. They are brand pushers, selling instead a psychology, a philosophy, a lifestyle that is only reverberated by their products, but not substantiated by them. As a result, manufacturing has been handed down to contractors lower down the ValueChain. Since mass production has ensured equality amongst most products (the I can't tell the difference phenomenon), perhaps even extending the process of commodification to the second sector (manufacturing), these contractors only possible profitable strategy is to do it cheaper. Thus, product quality quickly becomes a casualty provided, of course, that the brand values continue to reverberate in the outcome. Also, it has caused the movement of production jobs away to cheaper labour markets.

Therefore, it seems that trademarks no longer protect consumers like they used to. Even if a brand actually values quality, the legal and effective separation between the trademark and production create a level of tension not earlier present. This tension really is the lack of direct accountability between the manufacturer and the consumer. It seems like trademarks no longer are helpful.

But, trademark legislation is the only thing providing for the existence of these corporations, many of which are massive entities. Unraveling it will dramatically alter the society in which we live. Consumers need money too, and many derive employment directly or indirectly by these corporations. Consumers are people too, and many derive meaning in part from branded notions of identity. Some may find the latter point insidious, but it's not insignificant that the most recognized symbol in the world is the Crucifix. A secular society requires secular symbols, although brands are definitely cynical symbols.

Further, it's not untrue that a brand still has to represent some form of quality. Even if the reputation of the manufacturer is not directly on the line, the brand's reputation is. Many class warriors have assaulted the brands that employ the impoverished and abused labour markets around the world as a way of indirectly pressuring for improvements in those areas. Indeed, this is an example of how capitalistic hegemony can improve the third world, as we now have local levers that reach across these great distances.



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