Who Owns the Pussy Riot Brand?

You weren't expecting that question, were you? Well, it's a big controversy now.

zzzzpussy riot banner.jpg
Members of the female punk band "Pussy Riot" sit in the defendants' cell before a court hearing in Moscow in August of 2012. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

An ugly dispute over the ownership of Pussy Riot's name has flared up in Russia, with lawyers and members accusing each other of seeking to cash in on the group's notoriety. The all-women punk collective shot to global fame earlier this year after staging a provocative anti-Kremlin performance in a Moscow cathedral. Three members of the group were sentenced to two years in prison over the stunt, although one of them, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was later released on probation.

Samutsevich is now accusing her former lawyer, Mark Feigin, of applying for the Pussy Riot trademark without the group's knowledge. In comments published November 2 in the Russian Kommersant daily, she said she was "shocked" and "very surprised" to learn that Feigin had applied to register the brand under his wife's film company, Web Bio. The Pussy Riot trademark would give its owner the exclusive right to produce a range of Pussy Riot-themed items, from pens to clothes, cosmetics, stationary, toys, videos, or beverages.

Valued at $1 Million

Feigin, however, denies wrongdoing by either him or Samutsevich's two other former lawyers, Nikolai Polozov and Violetta Volkova. He also points to a split within Pussy Riot over whether or not to exploit the name's commercial value, estimated by some experts to be at least $1 million, even with no promotion whatsoever. "In April, when they were still in prison and no one was interested in the brand, they asked in writing that the brand be registered under the first immediately available firm," Feigin said. "This firm was my wife's film company. When this whole conflict arose between the girls, I, along with Polozov and Volkova, absolutely and permanently refused to have anything to do with this issue."

Pussy Riot announced in August that it planned to register Pussy Riot as a trademark to discourage people from using its name for profit or to promote projects that contradict its principles. Samutsevich, however, claims Feigin never informed her that the brand could be registered by his wife's company. Feigin says the move was precisely intended to protect Pussy Riot from attempts to misuse its name. Samutsevich, he says, is the one interested in drawing profit from Pussy Riot. "Why she is pursuing this commercial approach, I cannot say," he says. "But it's regrettable, because their decision to make this public has sparked a public discussion of this problem."

Accusations 'Unfounded'

Feigin also accuses Pyotr Verzilov, a well-known anti-Kremlin activist and the husband of jailed Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, of scheming to use the group for commercial purposes.

All three convicted Pussy Riot members -- Samutsevich, Tolokonnikova, and Maria Alyokhina -- wrote a letter from prison firmly opposing any commercialization of the group. Yaroslav Nikitenko, a personal friend of Samutsevich, says Feigin's accusations are unfounded. "It's wrong to accuse Verzilov, who has nothing to do with this, or Samutsevich," Nikitenko says. "Katya, Masha, and Nadia all exclusively acted based on their ideals and they are against the commercialization, against anyone drawing profits from it."

The dispute is likely to deepen. Rospatent, Russia's regulatory body for patents and trademarks, on November 2 rejected the application filed by Web Bio. "Rospatent's decision to reject the application for the Pussy Riot brand means anyone can now apply for it," lawyer Polozov wrote on Twitter. "Who will be faster than Verzilov?"

As all sides continue to trade accusations, the unapproved sale of Pussy Riot paraphernalia is gathering pace. Pop diva Madonna, for instance, a staunch supporter of the punk collective, is selling T-shirts bearing the Pussy Riot logo on her online shop.



This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

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