When the French artist and music journalist Joachim Roncin first posted an image with the words “Je Suis Charlie” to his Twitter feed, he was not, presumably, thinking about intellectual property law.
Roncin created the now-iconic white-and-gray text roughly an hour after last week’s attack on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which occurred just five minutes from Roncin’s home in Paris. In the wake of the shooting, Roncin instinctively combined Charlie Hebdo’s logo and typographic design with a concept Roncin associated with the book series Où est Charlie? (Where’s Charlie?, published in the U.S. as Where’s Waldo?), which Roncin read frequently with his children. The image was intended not as a public symbol, but rather a personal expression of Roncin’s fear and sense of being “personally targeted” by the attacks.
Yet Roncin’s image didn’t remain his for long. It quickly became an international rallying cry for free speech, and a symbol of resistance to terror and solidarity with its victims. It also prompted a cascade of legal claims from companies and individuals seeking to trademark the image.
Attempts to monetize the slogan have been rapacious from the start: Cybersquatters were reportedly battling to register the domain names jesuischarlie.fr, jesuischarlie.com, and jesuischarlie.org within hours of the attack on the publication. As of Thursday, France’s Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle (INPI) had reportedly turned down over 120 trademark applications, at least two of which sought to use the phrase to sell weapons, according to AFP. Outside of France, trademark applications have also been filed by individuals ranging from an Australian fashion designer with an “esoteric perspective” to a Belgian businessman whose application would cover “laundry and cleaning products, printed matter, clothing, footwear, toys, decorations for Christmas trees, fruit juices and beer” in Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands.