Latest issue; aspirational branding and urban looting

The December 2011 issue
is the last to bear this colour.
Next month JIPLP launches
its smart new look for 2012
The December 2012 issue of the Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice (JIPLP) has been online for a little while now, but there has been so much going on that I forgot to let everyone know.  The online issue is available to all online and online/hardcopy subscribers as part of their subscription package.  non-subscribers can access the contents here and can purchase access to articles even  if they are not JIPLP subscribers.  Subscribers and non-subscribers alike can also see what has been available on the JIPLP Advance Access feature, where articles, Current Intelligence pieces and book reviews are posted weeks, and sometimes months, ahead of their paper publication date.  Again, this service is part of the subscription package, but non-subscribers can also pay for access.

The Editorial for this issue, 'Property! What property?', takes a look at the relationship between aspirational branding and urban looting. You can read it in full here:
"Property! What property?

This editorial was penned while shocked shopkeepers dig through the wreckage of their High Street stores in search of salvageable stock, while weary police sift through the ashes and the rubble in pursuit of evidence, forensic or otherwise, that will lead to a conviction. It is England's summer season of riots and looting, of random mindless violence and—in contrast—some curiously selective theft.

Desirable brands have been among the targets of the looters who, excited by the prospect of owning high fashion wear or cool sports clothing that lies beyond their immediate budgets and short-term expectations, have simply helped themselves. Some have hidden their faces under hoods and behind balaclava helmets, while others have taken no such precautions to preserve their anonymity. All have performed before an audience of security cameras and, as I write these words, many have already been visited by the enforcement agencies, charged and even sentenced for their criminal offences.

It is not just product brands that have suffered this treatment. Some popular High Street retail outlets have been ravaged too, their mannequins stripped, shelves cleared and carrier bags purloined as a handy means of making off with stolen property. Only e-tailers were spared, discounting the apocryphal tale of the young lad who smashed his computer screen in a hopeless attempt to raid an eBay vendor.

In November 2010 an editorial in this journal, entitled “IP and the Moral Maze”, decried the divorce which had taken place between the morality of intellectual property and the economics of it. That editorial argued that, for as long as intellectual property is seen merely as a means of adjusting the barriers between the trading territory of its owner and that of its competitors, and is shorn of its moral dimension, it will remain difficult to raise a persuasive case that copying is somehow wrong.

It now seems, at least in the consumer dystopia of England 2011, it is not merely intellectual property that has come adrift from its moral roots since the same fate has befallen physical property, both real and personal. Stealing an expensive and desirable pair of branded sports shoes is not just a question of taking possession of chattels without legal justification: it is a statement that one has bought into the aspirations which the brand conveys to those who wear it and that, as such an aspirant, one has a greater right to the shoes than does, for example, the inherently non-aspirational limited liability company which owns it. To put it another way, in terms of the aspirationally magnetic call of one leading brand owner, if you are a “Just do it” sort of person, you just do it.

What, if anything, can be done? This was never a problem when branding was a concept linked to cattle rather than to consumer goods and when trade marks reflected little other than a connection in the course of trade—but the genie of aspirational branding has been let out of the bottle and there's no chance of getting it back in. It sells goods, builds loyalty and makes both brand owners and consumers happy.

Is there such a thing as sensible aspirational branding? There was, once. Some readers may wish to ponder Disney's “small world” ethos, harking back to the 1960s, and its step-sister in Coca-Cola's 1970s “one world” aspiration, based on “I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing in Perfect Harmony”. Laudable as these aspirations are, one senses that they are worlds away from today's brands which compete in what is not so much a race to the bottom as a sprint to the edge: a brand must have ‘edge’ if it is to maximise its pulling power among young, brand-conscious purchasers.

So is there a way of branding that will foster a responsible attitude towards the property of others while yet remaining attractive, dynamic, unconventional and daring? Is there a way we can train consumers to keep their loyalty within manageable bounds? In short, can we use branding as a way of teaching respect for property, both physical and intellectual? And if these questions can be answered in the affirmative, who will take the risk of implementing such techniques in the volatile consumer markets of today?".

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