First posted on Commercial Law International on Jan 7, 2010.
“Old pirates, yes they rob I.”
The opening words to Redemption Song are as hard hitting now as they were when first bellowed by the iconic musical legend – Bob Marley – years ago. These words however may be taking on a new meaning in this era digitization and globalization where information is king. This era is all about IP – Intellectual Property – and the right to access, control and exploit for ones own benefit the concepts encapsulated within creativity.
As a matter of course the Brand – how you package and sell your IP, in fact branding itself becomes a form of IP – in this era becomes of great import. In fact one could argue that brand is not the everything but is the only thing. Consumers no longer simply buy a product or service – no, no – rather they are buying a brand.
Now this brings me to the House of Marley. The heirs of Bob Marley – the holders of the exclusive rights to the reggae superstar’s image – are drawing clear battle lines in the IP war on whom can access, control and exploit Marley’s iconic status. They have enlisted the aid of Canadian private equity firm Hilco Consumer Capital to package, manage, market, sell, monitor and protect the IP that is Bob Marley through the products sold under the new House of Marley brand.
Rather than attack the hawkers of existing wears, which would result in a multiplicity of protracted legal battles spread-out across the globe, Hilco and the House of Marley have instead embarked on a branding campaign. It is quite simple, the House of Marley will be authentic and all other comers will only be imitators – a potentially very lucrative strategy, if it can be pulled off.
According to reports, the Marley brand – name, sound and image – are estimated to generate $USD 600 million in a year and this is on the bootleg side alone. On the legal side, the brand generates a profitable but substantially smaller $USD 4 million a year.
With numbers like those no wonder the Marley heirs sought out and gained a partner like Hilco with a proven reputation in IP generally and branding specifically?
While I applauded this new venture, I can’t help but how long will it be before we see a court case or two? Maybe a few Anton Piller orders – best described but somewhat inaccurately as a civil search warrant, that feature so prominently in IP cases – or maybe the odd Mareva injunction – a court order freezing assets -?
The reason why I am thinking this is that it is impossible to escape the fact that branding – intellectual propertization – eventually means not only the allocation of exclusive rights but also the enforcement of those rights.