Solo Cup Company got the artist’s Instagram account for using a famous jazz motif
Instagram deleted the account of an artist producing critical work from Solo Cup Company, maker of the iconic disposable red cup.
“My intention was just to talk about paper plates,” artist Christopher Locke told Motherboard. Now her account, her followers and years of conversations with other artists are gone. (disclosure: Motherboard ordered two pieces from Locke in 2019.
Locke is an artist and professor of ceramics in Austin, Texas. His work focuses on American overconsumption and the availability of material goods. Recently, Locke made and sold ceramic mugs infused with the famous Jazz design Solo cups used in the 1990s.
“My work since 2005 makes a lot of references to waste, overconsumption, planned obsolescence of electronics, and this desire that we all have to consume. Everything is disposable, ”Locke said.
As an older millennial, Locke grew up drinking from mugs featuring the Jazz design. He fondly remembered the look but didn’t want to buy unnecessary disposable cups. So he turned on his oven and started making his own ceramic versions. On some, he changed the pops of purple and teal to form the words “corporate bullshit”.
He posted them on his Instagram account and started selling them on his Etsy shop. “It hit that real sweet spot between nostalgia for our age group and feeling better about waste by buying something that is handmade,” he said. “It reflects waste without adhering to it. My thinking is if you give someone a handmade ceramic object that looks like a paper cup, they might be less likely to buy paper cups.
On April 23, Instagram deleted some of its recent ceramic mug posts and explained that Solo, who has a trademark for Jazz design, had reported the posts for trademark violation. According to Locke, he didn’t want to lose his account, so he carefully went through his messages and cleaned up the photos from the ceramic mugs. But he missed one three years ago, and three days later Instagram called him a “repeat infringer” and deleted his account.
“I was seriously wrong in thinking it was so ubiquitous that I was doing no harm in making pottery,” Locke said in an email to Solos lawyers. “Can we call a truce?” I can’t undo what I have done and I don’t want to lose my entire account because of it. “
Dart Container, which acquired Solo Cup Company in 2012, responded to Locke by telling him that he was not distinguished. “Dart Container values its passionate community of fans,” the company said. “We can assure you that we are correcting the other counterfeit items and that your items are indistinguishable.”
Locke also took to Instagram to no avail. “We previously warned you that if you continued to infringe the rights of third parties, we would terminate your account,” Instagram told Locke in an email. “As a result, your account has been deactivated and you are no longer authorized to use Instagram. Thank you for your cooperation.”
While Solo sells Jazz-themed merchandise in his own store, and Locke’s ceramic pieces could theoretically be mistaken for official company merchandise, according to a copyright expert, the ceramic mugs are probably fair use. This is a parody and commentary on Solo’s branding and it can be difficult for Solo to prove otherwise in court.
“I’m a little surprised that they were able to achieve a successful take down of this type of artistic work by using a trademark,” Louis Tompros, a copyright and trademark lawyer at the firm of attorneys Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP. “I don’t think there is a realistic copyright claim they could make that is not encompassed in fair use.”
According to Tompros, a brand is supposed to protect consumers, not the brand. It is intended to protect a consumer from purchasing a branded item that is not actually made by the owner of the intellectual property. “You can’t stop someone from using your brand just because they denigrate you. That’s not the question, ”he said.
Tompros said Solo might have a case for diluting the brand, but it would have to prove that Locke’s work damaged the brand and confused consumers.
“The point is, the ability to protect against this is very limited because we have the First Amendment,” Tompros said. “We want people to be able to criticize brands. We want people to post “This brand sucks” bumper stickers and make it look good. “
Locke just wants his account back and he’s not sure if he’ll create another one. For him, losing the source of income doesn’t hurt as much as losing the story he has built for himself online. “What really bothered me was every comment I left on another artist’s page, every conversation I ever had with another artist on Instagram, all the messages exchanged, all these relationships … it’s just vaporized, “he said. “If I start another account, I have to rebuild it from scratch. “
Solo did not immediately return Motherboard’s request for comment.