Friday, January 13, 2012

Toyota on a Chain: Creatively Challenged Art or Parody?

Last year's Hong Kong International Art Fair at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre included the "Toyota Chain", by Thomas Hirschhorn, which, was exactly that. Mr Hirschhorn, a Swiss artist, made the piece in 2002, and so far, nobody wants to buy it.

To magnify an existent trademarked logo, without authorisation by the trademark holder, and put it on a chain seems quite stale as a piece of art. But is it legal? In Hong Kong there is no such thing as parody in the Trade Marks Ordinance (and not even in the Copyright Ordinance, so that excludes an analogous application, although it is being considered, see here). And even if there was, I think it is doubtful that this piece of cardboard, adhesive tape, aluminium and red spray falls within the scope of parody. Mr Hirschhorn uses the name recognition and reputation of the Japanese car brand to exploit commercially. In Hong Kong Mr Hirschhorn was definitely diluting Toyota's trademarked logo and name and possibly in jurisdictions with a parody provision as well.
Hirschhorn's "Toyota chain" at the 2011 Hong Kong International Art  Fair
Photo: Danny Friedmann


Anonymous said...

What about for social commentary or other form of critical expression? In the US at least it is not uncommon to see people wearing gold-plated pendants made up of luxury car marques - Cadillac and Mercedes in particular. So creating a pendent using a more mass-market brand is making a statement (however bland it might be).

IP Dragon said...

I see you point, but it seems to me arbitrary to single out one brand, in this case Toyota. I think one can only single out one brand if the social critique is aimed at that brand's conduct to increase its accountability. However, this is only fair if the brand can let a court judge whether this critique is legitimate and not a defamation. Many times a brand is singled out and just used as a symbol because it is famous, even though there is no direct link between a critique and the brand. It is too easy to damage a brand, and some artists are just free-riding on investments made by a brand.