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Pussy Riot fights lawyer over branding

posted 22 Nov 2012, 10:07 by Mpelembe   [ updated 22 Nov 2012, 10:07 ]

Members of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot oppose the idea of commercialisation of the band's name after one of their former lawyers fails to officially register the brand.

MOSCOWRUSSIA (NOVEMBER 22, 2012) (REUTERS) -  Members of Russian punk protest group Pussy Riot, just three months after the end of a trial that shot them to world fame, say they are fighting to stop anyone cashing in on their multi-million-dollar brand.

The band's action is unusual in Moscow where recognisable brands line streets and fill storefronts with advertising, trying to reinforce their products in the minds of potential consumers.

Branding experts say the Pussy Riot name is worth a fortune. If they were interested, the band's members could get rich from tours, films, documentaries and recording contracts.

But it is anathema to the women who, dressed in garish masks, dresses and mismatched tights, burst into a Russian Orthodox cathedral last February and performed a "punk prayer" calling for the Virgin Mary to chase away Putin. The performance cost three members of the group their freedom, as Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and sentenced to two years in prison.

For outsiders, including Western celebrities who have adopted the jailed women's cause, selling merchandise with the Pussy Riot logo is a way to raise money to help them. The U.S. singer Madonna, other artists and numerous outlets online now offerPussy Riot T-shirts for sale. Madonna and many other retailers say they are sending the money they raise to help pay for the band's legal defence.

Samutsevich, whose sentence was overturned on appeal, maintains the very idea of making a profit is against the principles of their radical protest movement, seen in the West as a symbol of resistance to a Kremlin crackdown on dissent.

"A brand is registered only when people want to make money from their work and so this contradicts our conception, our ideology. We are against arts commercialisation, music commercialisation, and obviously we want to be an example of non-commercial work, non-commercial art. It would be weird to contradict ourselves and to register the brand," she said.

Samutsevich told Reuters she was outraged when she found out that one of Pussy Riot's lawyers, Mark Feigin, had tried to register the brand with RospatentRussia's federal agency for intellectual property, under his wife's film company.

"The application (for the band's brand registration) was sent back in April which surprised me. So all this time we haven't been told a word. We found out there was a contract, some kind of financial contract which is also very odd because our lawyers knew perfectly well that we have a non-commercial band, we've been constantly saying this, we've been discussing it all the time, so this is strange," Samutsevich said.

Pussy Riot has always been more about protest than music. The band has never made any official recordings and does not have a recording contract.

The brand was estimated at $3 million in gross revenue, with a net income of around $2-2.5 million, according to Prophet Brand Strategy consultancy.

Such revenue would, however, require the band to be interested in commercialising their brand.

Feigin, Pussy Riot's ex-lawyer said he had tried to register the name Pussy Riot solely to protect the interests of the band members who were on trial. He said he attempted to register the brand with RospatentRussia's federal agency for intellectual property, using his wife's film company, WEB-BIO.

"It is a blow from the authorities - it's the authorities' vengeance for the summer's (Pussy Riot) trial to the defence lawyers (Mark) Feigin, (Violetta) Volkova, (Nikolai) Polozov. They decided to exact revenge on us this way, using Yekaterina Samutsevich as a tool, who was apparently freed under some conditions, that's my view. She is fulfilling these conditions at the moment by practically accusing lawyers of fraud, of committing some horrible deeds," Feigin said.

Feigin withdrew from Tolokonnikova's defence on Monday (November 19), saying the lawyers had become "irritants to the authorities" which was beginning to harm the women in jail.

He defended his attempt to register the name Pussy Riot, saying he had done so solely to protect the interests of band members and had used his wife's company because there was no other company available.

"No one has exclusive rights for the brand. The misunderstanding of this led to the fact that at the moment - since there's no application for the agreement that guaranteed their right to the brand, as it was rejected in Rospatent - now the brand is free. Anyone in the world, just so you know, anyone in the world in any country of the world - a legal body, not an individual - has a right to apply for the (Pussy Riot) brand registration," Feigin said.

Rospatent gave no reason when it refused to register the brand this month. Experts said its approval was needed before any attempt to register the brand internationally.

As if to add insult to injury, this week, a Russian publisher began selling a book about the group that it attributes to Tolokonnikova, but admits that it did not have permission from her to publish in her name.


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