Biker Gangs & Intellectual Property

Talk about controversial products!

Check this story, from the Toronto Star: Hells Angels seek to protect skull logo.

After years of the Hells Angels being the target of police raids and surveillance across North America, the outlaw motorcycle gang has decided to make a stand in an Ontario court – over its logo.

Next month, the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club takes to the courts in a bid to force police to return its vests, jewellery, calendars, scarves, T-shirts, belt buckles, rings, pins, posters, a cuckoo clock, bumper stickers and anything else they have seized bearing the bikers’ trademarked logo of a winged skull….

The question I asked back in November and again last week, was:

“If you think product X is unethical (or maybe just morally ‘problematic’), can you engage in a constructive discussion about how to make that product more acceptable (while still selling it) or how to sell it more ethically?”

This story about the Hell’s Angels implies the following question:

“Can we engage in a constructive discussion about protecting the intellectual property rights (or other rights) of a ‘business’ that happens also to be a criminal organization?”

Another way of asking the same thing: Do we care about basic rights enough that we’re willing to defend those rights, even when we don’t like the organization claiming them?

5 comments so far

  1. Justin Kownacki on

    The moment the courts turn away someone’s intellectual property appeal based on an ethical (dis)approval of that business, they’ve created an ugly precedent. “Activist judges,” etc.Meanwhile, wouldn’t it be great if the Hell’s Angels became the spokesgroup for Creative Commons licenses?And, finally: do the Hell’s Angels have an accountant and a brand manager? If not, I see one great reason to track down your favorite Angel on LinkedIn…

  2. plasticsyntax on

    Maybe I’m missing something here, but how would a trademark allow the Hells Angels to reclaim things taken in raids by the police? It’s not like the police are selling the items.

  3. Chris MacDonald on

    Not sure exactly what the basis of their claim is. I *take* it that it’s about the fact that the bikers from whom the police seized the goods didn’t actually *own* those goods — they were the property of the organization.

  4. Paul on

    I think you have that right, Chris. It’s a very interesting case (and I’ve been following it because the clubhouse from which half this stuff was seized is a couple of blocks from my house. It sported a very fancy looking steel sculpture of the head logo, which the police tore down with gusto. And something I’ve never seen before – the cops hung a big banner from the clubhouse proclaiming that they had seized this property, in a Bush-esque “Mission accomplished” way.)A bunch of things being conflated in the story – their ownership of the trademark (not actually applicable here), their ownership of the goods (the crux of this particular matter), and their dubious enforcement of their “rules” through violence and intimidation.Their logo has a lot of baggage, particularly in Toronto, which has its own “gang colours” bylaw – something I’ve always wondered about, in terms of legality. The rules are getting ridiculous – there are stories in NY and Toronto about baseball caps being banned because of the colours or designs have gang associations.As for the Hells – living near their former clubhouse, I saw some strange things. For example, riders would pull over a block away, put on their “patch” vests (which are illegal on the roads) before pulling into their clubhouse. (But my favourite moment was when they were out planting tomatoes in the flowerboxes they built to disguise crash barriers by the front door 🙂I guess this particular case will come down to the organization proving that the property seized did not belong to the individual members or clubhouse. Seems like a tall order.

  5. Anonymous on

    I can’t stand the Angels as a group, but I have known enough ex-bikers to realize that they are just immature men living out macho fantasies and that they can turn their lives around. However, unless we outlaw the Angels, they should have the same intellectual property rights as others. (In my opinion: criminal orgs. get less effective the more high profile they are. The profits from tee shirts might pale in comparison to being able to better track criminal scum)– Kevin McDonaldHalifax, Nova Scotia (where we ran their clubhouse out of Fairview)


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