The Internet and all its connex services opened the doors to a whole new world, where communication is no longer hindered by distance. It also improved access to information and sped up the process of globalisation.
However, this also brought on a lot of confusion and unprecedented situations that are difficult to sort out. As a translation agency, we work with various customers who require translation and localisation services for their brand, logo, website, or other marketing materials.
Both translation and localisation are crucial when you’re trying to build a successful campaign for a new market. But companies also face different challenges, such as trademark and copyright infringement conflicts with local businesses.
Why – you ask? Well, there have been situations when the translation of a company’s slogan into another language happened to be the exact (or extremely similar) slogan used by a local company. Let’s go through several examples:
Examples of Translation Copyright Infringement
The Golden Balls Situation
Golden Balls is a sportswear company in the UK, founded by Inez and Gus Bodur in 2001. They had no trouble using the name and building their brand around it until 2007 when a new game show called “Golden Balls” aired on ITV1. Since the Bodurs owned the trademark for the name, the company owning the show had to license the name from them.
However, once the show aired, the Bodurs were contacted by the organisers of FIFA Ballon d’Or (Golden Ball in French), accusing them of copyright infringement on the French trademark owned by the FIFA organisation.
After a lengthy legal process and lots of frustrations, the Bodurs won in the European trademark disputes court in 2010. However, OHIM (Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market) granted trademark rights for “Golden Balls” to Ballon d’Or organisation, in a number of sectors in Europe, including TV.
So, who won? Or most pressing – who was right?
The case went back and forth, and it may still be going, with losses on both sides. Still, the ones most affected by the situation are the Bodurs, who were forced to close their store and lost business.
The Spanish KFC Situation
Another case of brand translation and localisation that led to copyright infringement is built around Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) – a world-known brand with branches on almost all continents.
Their brand contains the phrase “It’s finger lickin’ good”, so when they launched on the Hispanic market, the English to Spanish translation and localisation of their brand became “para chuparse los dedos”. However, the Spanish phrase was already used by a California Mexican restaurant, whose owner filed a lawsuit against KFC.
According to the owner of the Mexican restaurant, they’ve been using the Spanish translation of the slogan since 1980 and even had it trademarked in 2007. As a result, the US Patent and Trademark Office rejected KFC’s application. However, KFC ended up still using the translated slogan in their campaign.
These two cases are only the icing on the cake as copyright infringement lawyers are still trying to sort out similar cases all over the globe. The fast globalisation and broader access to information will continue to create such situations until we will have clearly-written rules regarding translations and copyright protection.
Right now, it’s not clear if the protection is extended to the translation. And if it is an extension, does this mean a trademarked phrase is owned in all languages? These scenarios raise a number of questions that have the law-makers in this area scratch their heads. All we can do is hope they’ll manage to come up with some comprehensive proposal soon enough!