Here are some common phrases and images that everybody knows…but if you use them, you just might owe somebody some money.
A soft and crunchy tale
On the second workday of every week, millions of Americans celebrate the wonderful but informal holiday of “Taco Tuesday.” That means they eat tacos, either prepared at home, or via a Mexican restaurant or taco place’s weekly special, advertised as such. (And hey, who isn’t a sucker for alliteration?) However, any eatery that tries to pull in customers by promising “Taco Tuesday” deals is technically in violation of copyright law. Taco John’s boasts 400 outlets in 23 states, and after a franchisee came up with the phrase “Taco Twosday” to advertise a two-tacos-for-a-buck deal in the early ‘80s, the company trademarked “Taco Tuesday” in 1989. Taco John’s has the legal right to the phrase in every state but New Jersey (where another taco place beat them to the punch). Taco John’s aggressively defends its trademark, too. Facing legal action in 2014, a Mexican restaurant in Wisconsin held a contest to come up with a new slogan to replace its illegal “Taco Tuesday,” and a diner suggested “Ole Tuesday.” In 2019, Taco John’s sent a cease-and-desist letter to a brewery less than a mile from its corporate headquarters, because it brought in a taco truck on Tuesdays for…something that can no longer be called “Taco Tuesday.”
Money in the bag
KISS is one of the most merchandised bands in rock n’ roll history — whatever band provides fans with both action figures of its members, a (now-closed ) Kiss Koffeehouse, and even coffins bearing the band’s iconography and imagery? Founding member Gene Simmons is a true businessman, and he enjoys money so much that he filed a trademark for the classic image of a bag with a dollar sign on it. (Ever see in a bank robber in an old cartoon? That’s how they’d haul away their loot.) In 1991, Scottish alternative rock band Teenage Fanclub released the album Bandwagonesque, and the cover art consistent of a yellow bag with the $, on a pink background. When Simmons found out about it, he tattled to Teenage Fanclub’s label, Geffen Records, who quickly issued a hefty check to the KISS bassist.
I for Irony
In November 1605, would-be revolutionary Guy Fawkes tried to blow up British Parliament. In the ‘80s, Alan Moore and David Lloyd appropriated the image of Guy Fawkes in their comic book V for Vendetta. Set in a dystopian, fascistic near-future, anti-government revolutionaries stage acts of insurgency while wearing Guy Fawkes masks. When V for Vendetta became a popular film in 2005, real-life protesters and activists around the world started wearing similar Guy Fawkes masks to conceal their identities. Ironically, Time Warner, the parent company of the studio that released the V for Vendetta movie filed a trademark on the Guy Fawkes mask. That means whenever someone buys one of those masks to protest against giant corporations…they’re giving money to a giant corporation.