Print and sell posters with the Coke-a-Cola logo on them and prepare to get sued. For corporations today, brands are valued property to be aggressively defended from unauthorized use. This was not always the case. The proprietary attitude taken by companies toward their brands developed in the context of a growing consumer economy, and under the tutelage of lawyers.
In this episode of Stories from the Stacks, legal scholar Oren Bracha, professor at the University of Texas at Austin, discusses his research into the legal history of branding and trademarks. Bracha observes that the function of brands in influencing consumer behavior had been recognized by marketers by the turn of the twentieth century, and that the function of brands as corporate property developed subsequently as a result of the intersection of business practice with the legal profession.
Using Hagley Library collections, including the Seagram and DuPont company records, Bracha discovered how the proprietary attitude toward brands translated into actual legal practice. Corporations police the public meaning of their brands, with lawyers daily directing media outlets and other corporations on the permissible use of trademarked and brand-associated content. Bracha highlights the case of the DuPont product Cellophane™, which the company sought to protect against rival products marketed using the same name.
To support his use of Hagley Library collections, Dr. Bracha received an Exploratory research grant from the Center for the History of Business, Technology, & Society. More information on funding opportunities for research at Hagley can be found here.
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Interview by Amrys Williams. Produced by Gregory Hargreaves.
Image: Cellophane Hands Off: See What You Buy, 1933, dpads_1803_00222, Series I, Box 43, Folder 12, ‘Advertising tearsheets – 1933,’ E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company Advertising Department records (Accession 1803), Manuscripts and Archives Department