MTA Tracks Down MetroCard Painter for Trademark Infringement

04/11/2011 3:50 PM |

By Victoria Hunter McKenzie.
  • By Victoria Hunter McKenzie.

Though a recent exhibition of MetroCard art at Lower East Side gallery Sloan Fine Art went off without incident, East Village artist Victoria Hunter McKenzie, who makes oil paintings on the expired MTA subway cards and sells them on Etsy, recently received a (courteously) angry, quasi-Koonsian letter.

She posted most of the letter on Tumblr, effectively a cease-and-desist telling her that in order to sell something with their extremely valuable and iconic brand upon it, she needs to set up a licensing agreement with them:

While we at the MTA are flattered that you recognize the value of our brand to consumers, please understand the MTA has a well-established product licensing program which markets authorized versions of such products. While we have no record of your firm requesting or being granted such authorization, we are prepared to initiate discussions with you about acquiring a license from us.

The MTA’s intellectual property is protected by applicable copyright law and trademark law. The manner in which your web site markets these items, such as your reference to New York City subway, implies involvement and/or endorsement of your business and products by the MTA.

The MTA considers its intellectual property to be a valuable asset which we protect from dilution and confusion in the marketplace. The MTA obtained and maintains its registered trademarks, copyrights and intellectual property in the public interest. It is important for the MTA to be able to communicate with the public about its services, as well as operate its established licensed products program, without unauthorized users of its intellectual property creating confusion.

Please reply to me by email or in writing to acknowledge receipt of this notice, and to indicate your intention to remove this item from Etsy and cease any sales of the item…

Thank you for your understanding and cooperation…

East Village Grieve has been following the story, which garnered a Wall Street Journal piece on Saturday revealing that unpaid MTA interns do most of their trademark infringement sleuthing, and that most licensing deals involve the artist giving up ten percent of revenue from MTA-emblazoned work (though McKenzie’s paintings always conceal most recognizable branding elements). The MTA makes about $500,000 through their nearly 120 licensing agreements—McKenzie has sold one MetroCard painting since putting the first one on Etsy in January, for a whopping $48. (ANIMAL)