Hashtag activism has gained a significant amount of traction in the years since 2012, and movements like Black Lives Matter have become household names. But what does this mean for the organizations that start and use the hashtags?
In this study, the researchers observed the discrepancies in the granting of trademarks for hashtags and made a case for the use of provisional hashtag marks. They also discussed the misappropriation of certain hashtags and why there is an obvious double standard amongst movements that are granted trademarks and those that are not.
Hashtags began as a way to group media together among social media sites and have since grown into a tool to rally people behind social issues. The difficulty with this comes along with figuring out how and what to trademark in terms of these hashtags.
The study defines use in commerce, source of the goods, and descriptive marks in order to help the reader better understand the argument for certain provisions to be made for social media movements.
For this particular study, the researchers decided to focus on the Black Lives Matter movement and the racial repercussions of the double standards in trademark approvals and refusals. They define Critical Race Theory in terms of intellectual property that has marginalized people of color for a long time.
For the study, the researchers reviewed #BlackLivesMatter trademark applications along with applications where the root phrase “lives matter” was used. There were 16 “lives matter” trademarks granted in the years studied, and the study goes on to decipher why these trademarks were approved whereas the 13 variations of #BlackLivesMatter in those same years were denied.
The study concluded that the issue did not lie in the root phrase of “lives matter” but in the social and political implications of the BLM movement, as well as insinuating that institutional racism also plays a role in these trademark refusals. The refusals seemed to be largely based on public recognition and perception rather than the trademark request itself.
The study ends by suggesting that we develop a new kind of source for trademarks, something that encapsulates online social movements and community in such a way that creators and organizations can better protect their work.
Mahin, S. L., & Ekstrand, V. S. (2021). Old Law, New Tech, and Citizen-Created Hashtags: #BlackLivesMatter and the Case for Provisional Hashtag Marks. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 98(1), 13-36.