KOMMERSANT

Pussy Riot, The Brand: Legal Battle Over Trademark Of Embattled Russian Band

Pussy Riot (c)?
Pussy Riot (c)?
Grigorii Tumanov and Aleksandr Voronov

MOSCOW - The Russian patent office has announced on its official website that it has denied Pussy Riot’s application for a trademark.

The application has been at the center of a major conflict about the use of Pussy Riot’s "brand." Band member Yekaterina Samutsevich had requested that one of the group’s lawyers, Mark Feigin, not use the group’s brand for commercial purposes, because she and other group members are against commercial usage of the name.

The trademark application was made by Feigin’s wife, who has already signed a 200,000-pound ($320,000) contract for a film using Pussy Riot’s name.

The members of Pussy Riot have gotten into a major conflict with the group’s lawyers over the use of the brand name. According to Samutsevich, Feigin is trying to make money from the group in a way that goes against band members’ values. Her lawyer says he hopes the patent office’s refusal to issue a trademark will be enough to prevent Feigin’s commercial abuse.

The application for a trademark was filed by “Film Company Web-Bio,” which belongs to Feigin’s wife, Natalia. The company tried to register the trademark in five categories of goods and one services category. They were planning to release pins, toys, clothing, flash drives, DVDs, pens, booklets and all sorts of printed items. The company was also counting on getting international rights to the band in the "entertainment" category. That would allow the company to release CDs, films, concerts and music under the group’s name. The patent office’s refusal to issue a trademark in this case was absolute; no part of the application was approved.

No curse words allowed

Vadim Uskov, head of a law firm dealing with related issues, explained the patent office’s refusal. “Usually curse words are blocked from being registered as a trademark,” he said. There was an example recently when singer had to file extensive documentation to register a trademark that included an obscure jargon word.

“Even if they were to register a trademark, they would be required to ensure that they had the agreement of all of the members of the group, and that would require a written agreement from each band member,” according to Uskov.

The Patent Office’s refusal does not mean that the conflict between Pussy Riot and Feigin is over. The reason for the conflict between the two parties goes back to Web-Bio’s contract with a European production company, Roast Beef Productions Limited, which was not authorized by the group.

Immediately after the contract was signed, Feigin’s wife received a transfer of 30,000 pounds ($48,000); she is set to receive another 170,000 pounds ($271,000) in the near future. All of the band members were completely against the commercial use of the Pussy Riot name, but it has become clear that Feigin’s wife’s company has managed to sign at least one other contract using the Pussy Riot name, for the publication of books.

Feigin said that neither he nor his wife have anything to do with the commercialization of Pussy Riot’s name. “I am surprised that this story, that has nothing to do with either my wife or myself, has all of a sudden exploded,” he said in an interview. But Web-Bio, the company that submitted the trademark application, is registered to the same address as the home of Feigin and his wife. It is the same address that Feigin had indicated as his home address, to which donations could be sent, on Pussy Riot’s official website.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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