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July 7, 2014: DC Denies Request to Use the Superman Symbol on Toronto Boy's MemorialPrint

Jeffrey's Memorial Statue DC Entertainment has denied a request from a Toronto family to use the Superman "S" shield on a statue dedicated to the memory of five-year-old Jeffrey Baldwin who died in 2002.

    A coroner's inquest last winter into the death of five-year-old Jeffrey Baldwin caught the attention of an Ottawa man, who was moved by Jeffrey's plight and wanted to pay tribute to the boy.

    Todd Boyce raised money for a statue of Jeffrey and recruited Ontario artist Ruth Abernethy - known for a Glenn Gould bronze statue on a bench on Front Street in Toronto and a bronze of Oscar Peterson outside the National Arts Centre in Ottawa - to design it.

    Boyce wanted to see Jeffrey depicted in a Superman costume, harkening back to inquest testimony from Jeffrey's father.

    Before his teenage parents lost custody of Jeffrey to his maternal grandparents the little boy was very energetic and loved the superhero, Richard Baldwin testified.

    "He wanted to fly," Baldwin said. "He tried jumping off the chair. We had to make him stop. He dressed up (as Superman) for Halloween one year... He was so excited. I have that picture at home hanging on my wall. He was our little man of steel."

    But DC Entertainment - home to the comic book superhero - will not grant Boyce permission to use the Superman logo on the statue.

The decision from DC Entertainment stems from the fact that they didn't want to the character of Superman associated with child abuse, as Jeffrey wasted away to the weight of a baby, locked in his cold and filthy bedroom in the Toronto home of his grandmother. His grandparents (and legal guardians) were convicted of second-degree murder in 2006.

A model of the statue, which has been completed (picture above), will now be changed to feature a "J" symbol for "Jeffrey" instead of the "S".

Source: Yahoo! News.


Comments

38436
#1 | CK61938 on July 7, 2014 8:09pm EST
So unfair. I cannot understand their reason behind this at all. It's just sad.
36734
#2 | DrAwkward on July 7, 2014 8:41pm EST
The issue is with international trademark law, not with DC. DC is a corporation, beholden to shareholders and the law... as such, they have an obligation to their investors and according to law to prevent the dilution of their mark.

Trademarks, unlike copyright, is meant to protect the theoretical consumer by providing them with an indication of source and endorsement. If a company fails to protect its mark, the mark becomes "generic" (belonging to the people) and the company loses the right to exclude others from using the mark (and likewise the exclusive merchandise and advertising tied to the mark). For example, Thermos, Xerox, and Kleenex have all, to some degree, lost the right to defend their marks against competitors because they've fallen into the public lexicon as generic terms for all products in their class.

Applied here, DC does not have the luxury of excusing this use. The best they can do is come to a licensing agreement, but that would be essentially endorsing a grave marker and signifying themselves as the source of the product. It is not at all unreasonable for DC to not want that association and why they can't come to compromise here like they did in the case of the Superman Barbershop (where they did license the Shield to the owner by way of settlement).

The fault lies with outdated Trademark Law which does not consider the people (or corporations) sophisticated enough to understand exceptions like these as neither endorsements nor waivers. Unless and until such law is made to address situations like these, DC is obligated to protect its mark and not make any endorsements its shareholders won't accept.

---

To elaborate further, recall that this was a commissioned piece for profit. Here, the motive was arguably good, but imagine DC excuses it here and doesn't defend their mark. Shortly thereafter an unsavory person starts to create, unsolicited, Superman caskets for infants. DC sues for the infringing use of their mark. What is going to be the infringer's defense? "Obviously they didn't care about their mark... see, they didn't stop or sue the gravestone maker from using their mark without permission." If that territory is ceded, then the precedent is set for the market is free to be flooded with morbid Superman Shields.

If Trademark Law was more sophisticated, DC wouldn't have to worry about making such exceptions, but here... when something was crafted for-profit using their mark without permission, the law makes them fight or give up the mark altogether in similar situations.
36734
#3 | DrAwkward on July 7, 2014 8:46pm EST
I hasten to add this line from the article corroborating my explanation:

"To be fair to DC I don't think they wanted to say no. I think they gave it serious thought."

Essentially, DC's only other option was to enter the gravestone business henceforth, and I can't fault them for not dragging the entire mark into that arena just because one family didn't understand the IP implications of their actions.
39026
#4 | Lost Son on July 7, 2014 9:42pm EST
I don't think this is a precedent DC wanted to set. I can imagine the difficulty in denying the request. In this particular case, I don't blame them.
31613
#5 | Hollywood on July 7, 2014 10:05pm EST
I really, really want to criticize DC for this...

...but I can't.
15341
#6 | gr8one on July 8, 2014 2:35am EST
Could DC not find some loophole that would allow it seeing as the statue is based on a photo of the child wearing the licenced costume? I mean a lawyer can get a felon off scott free and yet this is impossible. It seems odd.
Also if true, the statement that "The decision from DC Entertainment stems from the fact that they didn't want to the character of Superman associated with child abuse" is pretty damn cold. It was ok that he dealt with Cat Grants son being killed. Superman stands for hope and that is where this child drew strength from.
5037
#7 | mindhavens on July 8, 2014 4:01am EST
Great posts DrAwkward and thanks for clarifying DC's position.

On one hand I can completely understand DC position, though more based on DrAwkward's posts that anything in the original article. But on the other there's a fish and chip shop near where I live that uses the Superman logo and that gets to live on.

In some ways the 'J' seems more appropriate anyway, and such a sad story too about this little boy - there's some truly evil people out there.
34053
#8 | DonnieDee on July 8, 2014 4:25am EST
The first thing I'd say is their should be a review as to how the grandparents were deemed fit to care for this poor little boy and why he was allowed to suffer in their care. Makes me sick the poor little boy. Secondly, they would have been safer not asking permission. Look around at all the places that use it and get away and DC definitely wouldn't have risked the bad publicity asking it to be removed. Oh well, at least this way the little guy gets his own personalised symbol.
30480
#9 | Hailex on July 8, 2014 7:31am EST
Can't DC ask for $1 or some small amount?
I live in Toronto and saw the news item.
I think the "J" in the symbol might actually be a better idea anyway.
27541
#10 | Big E on July 8, 2014 12:10pm EST
It's a Pandora's box with this, I understand DC and the heartache of the family... Sad
8315
#11 | Steve Wright on July 8, 2014 12:26pm EST
If they never went to DC they likely wouldn't have ever found out in this case.
36544
#12 | Al on July 8, 2014 1:09pm EST
This is just sad. The boys family, those that care anyway, have gone through enough without this BS from DC. And I can't believe the excuses in this forum from the DC fanboys. Sure, DC have the legal right to do this, but that does not make it right to do this. People really need to learn the difference. I'm sure that if superman were real he would have allowed, and even have been honoured, humbled and deeply moved that they chose his symbol to represent their son. No wonder they can't make a decent Superman movie if they can't grasp the basic virtues of Superman. And exactly what harm would come of allowing the statue to have an S symbol anyway? What harm would be done to their image or their bank balance? None at all. By doing what they have done they have done harm to their own image so not only are their actions sad and pathetic, they are also completely pointless and counter productive. Just goes to show how much so called "thought" they put into this decision.
36734
#13 | DrAwkward on July 8, 2014 2:59pm EST
Al, I'm sorry, but you completely fail to understand the above explanation. It isn't a matter of optional right, it's a matter of legal obligation. If they didn't act, they could be sued by their shareholders after ceding the right to defend their mark... thus allowing any person of ill-repute to use it.

It isn't as if DC actually has a monetary investment in or risk of competition in the area of gravestones or barbershops... it's because trademark law is unforgiving if the mark holder fails to zealously defend their mark the holder loses their right to exclude others from the mark. They do it because the unsophisticated law forces them to do it to keep the mark, not because they delight in denying mourning families or small business owners. To think otherwise is ridiculous and a view divorced from reality.

Heck, you answer your own question but come to the wrong and ridiculous conclusion that DC is reveling in denying out of profit motive without regard for the bad press. How absurd! Obviously, DC would prefer to AVOID bad press, especially as there IS NO PROFIT in denying this non-competitor. If they had a viable option other than denial or license, they'd take it! The law provides no option thus they do this as a REQUIREMENT.

What exactly is the harm? I illustrated it. The harm is that DC then has no right to stop another infringer in the same arena with less noble intentions. Rather than a crowd funded memorial, someone attempting to exploit the shield for porn, caskets, or whatever else, the law makes no distinction between good intentions and bad, but rather (mostly) for-profit or not (if the artist had made the grave-marker gratis, we wouldn't have this issue).

The only other option is license, which now forevermore attaches the shield and brand to gravemarkers. When other licensees contract for what they're getting, they also have to contract for what they're not getting in order not to step on the toes of other licensees. By making the family a licensee, that means every future license is going to address Superman's ties to gravemarkers. It means that DC has to seriously entertain or rebuff offers from Superman casket makers and Superman branded urn makers, rather than rely on the reasonable stance that they aren't in that arena. Additionally, it subjects DC to all the laws and restrictions involved in end-of-life regulation.

All it goes to show is that the press can tell half a story and easily manipulate people unaware of the law.

Put simply: What is the more reasonable conclusion... that DC denied the family because nothing was at stake merely out of spite... or reluctantly denied because the stakes were high?

Just a bit of common sense is required.
34808
#14 | Marc Pritchard on July 8, 2014 3:16pm EST
And I can't believe the excuses in this forum from the DC fanboys.

Al, please park your sanctimony at the firewall when it comes to casting aspersions at other members of this site. You don't have to believe anything, but you do have to observe the member rules. And no, yours isn't the most extreme example ever, but when posted after DrAwkward's very articulate and comprehensive post, it's suspect just the same.

The first thing I'd say is their should be a review as to how the grandparents were deemed fit to care for this poor little boy and why he was allowed to suffer in their care.

Rest assured, the case went to trial and the grand-parents were found guilty of second-degree murder.
37517
#15 | Meno on July 8, 2014 4:56pm EST
Even as a legal layperson, I find DrAwkward's write-up to be the most logical rationale. I don't think any company out there is so naive not to realize that this would reflect badly upon them. However, it makes easy headlines to write how a big, bad corporation has no heart.

Sometimes, the idiots running these companies aren't as dumb as we like to think they are.
36544
#16 | Al on July 9, 2014 2:10pm EST
Yes, the counter arguments to mine are articulate but I still find them invalid. By allowing/ignoring the symbol on the grave stone they set no legal precedent that allows anyone to use it for whatever purpose. Copyright/Trademark law is a civil law rather than a criminal law. That means that it's up to the owner of the work to sue the violator. They could have chosen to simply ignore it just like they have in may other cases. Nobody wrote to them and complained that trademark law was being broken. Bon Jovi has the S symbol tattooed on his arm and the tattoo artist made a profit out of doing it. A friend of mine also has the same tattoo as do many many other people. Yet they have chosen not to act because as I have just proven, they can choose to ignore it if they want to. I am sorry if I have broken any rules and if I offended anyone. I didn't mean to be sanctimonious. However the actions of DC WERE AVOIDABLE and abhorrent and it just made me angry.
34808
#17 | Marc Pritchard on July 9, 2014 2:42pm EST
^ Thanks, Al. Your anger at DC is acceptable, provided you don't take it out on the rest of us when you express it, which you allowed yourself to do. Not a HUGE issue in this instance, but large enough to address.

Meanwhile, I'm neither a lawyer nor an American, so I'm twice removed from any credibility to comment on the merits of your counter-argument and will have to leave that to DrAwkward, should s/he choose to do so.
33044
#18 | borikua on July 9, 2014 2:49pm EST
@Al, I think thats what it boils down to. If they had NOT asked, I doubt DC would have even said anything. But the fact that they did request it, prompted them to use the legal form of saying no. Im not a lawyer, but I do work in advertisement and from what little I understand of the law, thats what it boils down to. The sculpture didnt do anything wrong, in fact he did everything right. Had he just put the symbol on the statue he probably would have been ok and Dc would have never bat an eye (as you say, the symbol is used everywhere).
36734
#19 | DrAwkward on July 9, 2014 4:41pm EST
Yeah, knowledge has a lot to do with it. DC basically turns a blind eye to convention commissions, which doesn't work if explicitly confronted with a request for a license.

Incredibly, DC has reversed their decision!
http://www.thesta...hield.html

While this may seem like an easy thing to do, DC will never get even a tenth of the credit they deserve for this... as I've laid out in the original post, there are risks in making themselves a part of the grave stone business, but they're doing an extremely Superman-ish thing... which is believing people are generally good and won't take advantage of them being in this position. I hope their faith is rewarded.

---

(To use the earlier illustration, they are banking on no one else coming along to sell Superman caskets, gravestones, etc. for profit... and exploit the vulnerability that they've opened themselves to. From a liability standpoint, it's not a good decision, but it's unquestionably a brave decision.)
34808
#20 | Marc Pritchard on July 9, 2014 4:43pm EST
^ Thank you for that link, sir.
35927
#21 | liheibao on July 9, 2014 5:04pm EST
They'll get all the credit in the world from me. DC, ya done good.
15341
#22 | gr8one on July 9, 2014 9:00pm EST
With DC's reversal of their decision, this makes DrAwkard's rational a little, how do you say, Awkward
36544
#23 | Al on July 10, 2014 10:39am EST
Well this is incredible. It's sometimes harder to admit you might have made a mistake than to do it right the first time. To reverse their decision was likely harder than to allow them to use the shield in the first place. So, I take it all back, hats off to DC.

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