Yesterday, USA Today reported that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had issued a cease-and-desist notice to home goods/kitchen store Fishs Eddy over the representation of the Twin Towers on its signature 212 Skyline dishware pattern. Fishs Eddy sells the exact same pattern wholesale to the 9/11 Memorial Museum gift shop; the Port Authority owns the land on which the 9/11 Memorial Museum (and gift shop) sits. The cease-and-desist letter reportedly cited Fishs Eddy for “unfairly reaping a benefit from an association with the Port Authority and the (9/11) attacks”—as opposed to fairly reaping a benefit, as the Port Authority is doing.
Fishs Eddy co-owner Julie Gaines has said she no plans to stop selling the pattern, and well she shouldn’t. The pattern has been for sale since before the 9/11 attacks, unlike this hoodie and this tote bag and this keychain. But those products are being sold in the appropriate place by the appropriate corporate entities, apparently. But the exact same product sold anywhere else in the city, even by the creator of that product, is considered “improper third-party commercial use.” It defies sense.
The Port Authority of New York is an interstate “joint venture” that does not collect tax or receive funding from either state; its facilities (which include everything from JFK to the Port Authority Bus Terminal to the World Trade Center PATH station) depend financially on “revenues generated by facility users”—also known as 9/11 Memorial Museum admission—as well as tolls, fees and rents. The Port Authority owns the current site of the 9/11 Memorial Museum (and gift shop), formerly the site of the Twin Towers. But it purports also to own any and all representations of the Twin Towers and One World Trade Center, for the exclusive use and production by and for the Port Authority and its properties.
This is a ridiculous notion, and one that would deny victims’ families, New Yorkers, and Americans around the country access to something that is not piece of intellectual property—not a logo, not a registered trademark—but the drawn likeness of a national symbol, and one that doesn’t cost $24 admission. The Twin Towers are a piece of history, history that belongs to the people who mourned their violent loss, and now hope to remember them, even if only on a $12 coffee mug.
What is it to the Port Authority anyway if someone makes or sells or buys an image of the Twin Towers? New York City landlords may be nuts, but this presumption is beyond the pale. In the words of Julie Gaines, “It’s just really insane.”
Follow John Sherman on Twitter @_john_sherman.