Shoestring Theory

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Who owns Route 66?

April 21, 2010 at 11:37 am by thetheorist

A friend alerted me this morning that an item had been removed from his Zazzle store because it contained imagery related to Route 66, the iconic US highway that ran from Chicago to LA. A company based in the Netherlands, Tempting Brands, apparently claims to own the trademark to Route 66 and has been sending takedown notices to Zazzle users relating to merchandise that includes the Route 66 logo. A quick search showed at least one other Zazzle user who’s merch had been taken down for the same reason. That user posted a screen capture of his takedown letter here.

The licensing website for Route 66, with information on licensing and use of Route 66, includes dozens or hundreds of photographs, sounds and movies relating to Route 66 that appear to be vintage stuff, including having the classic song “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66” playing over an image montage. But there is absolutely no information indicating that they have asked for, paid for or received the rights to use any of the images, videos or sounds on their licensing site. In fact, there’s very little information overall about the company, actual licensing, their history of ownership, anything at all. There’s not a lot of information about the parent company Tempting Brands either, their official website address just links back to the Route 66 licensing website already linked above.

I have to admit to being incredibly confused about this. Route 66 was a federal US highway that existed for 70 years before being decommissioned and is one of the classic icons of Americana and the development of America’s car/roadtrip culture. I can’t fathom that any company, individual or organization could claim to own a trademark to the name or symbol of Route 66. There are some very specific trademarks and copyrights held in relation to Route 66, such as the old 60s TV series, but courts have shown that even those are very limited due to the nature of Route 66.

Technically the route was decommissioned and I can see the symbol potentially existing in a legal limbo, but there are thousands of companies, communities and individuals who have used Route 66 logos and symbols over the years for just about every use imaginable, including t-shirts, business logos, a movie, TV series, even a state park. Every state the route passed through has a Route 66 historic preservation association. It’s simply unfathomable to me that this trademark can stand as legally binding. The fact that it’s held by a European company is just insulting on top of that.

For those of you who would like to contact the relevant parties about this, feel free to call Zazzle at 1-888-8ZAZZLE (892-9953) or (408) 983-2800. Tempting Brands contact information is:

Tempting Brands B.V.
Westerkade 27-3
1015 XE Amsterdam
The Netherlands
T: +31 (0)20 778 2156

Martijn Berkhout MA
Managing Director

Below you’ll find a series of screen captures I took of the licensing site as it stands now:

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6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 michael boles Apr 21, 2010 at 11:53 am

    i am a zazzle artist who was surprised by one of these takedown claims. I did not even use route 66, but “Missouri 66” in my image.
    I have found no information about test cases against tempting brands. I am researching whether or not the trademark exists or not. In the meantime, i have forwarded contact info from the website you reference above to every organization i can find who uses route 66 roadsigns as advertising materials. what a ridiculous and unenforceable claim.

  • 2 Earthmonster Apr 21, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    Glad to see someone else is on this. I am delving deeper. I have emailed the company asking for a look at their copyright, no response.

  • 3 Alan Hutchins Apr 21, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    A company possibly a parent company of Tempting Brands does have a trademark on a specific version of the Route 66 sign. That version does not have the US in the bar. You can veiw the trademarks on Route 66 at the US Trademark Office webpage.

    It appears that Tempting Brands is misrepresenting their trademark to Zazzle and likely others. I would suggest that legal action be considered against them by all who have been adversly affected by their apparant baseless claims.

    Here is the link the the trademark website:

  • 4 thetheorist Apr 21, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    Alan, I agree with you. The comparison I made to Casey earlier was it’s like trademarking a “Statuette of Liberty”, and then issuing takedown orders for people selling stuff with the actual Statue of Liberty on it.

  • 5 Earthmonster Apr 21, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    There are over 1750 Route 66 Copyrights listed according to my attorney. This should get good before it’s over.

  • 6 Alan Hutchins Apr 22, 2010 at 12:55 am

    The fact that there are so many different trademarks associated with something like Route 66 is why each example or potential case of infringement needs to be carefully considered and looked into. Had this company Tempting Brands looked more closely at the WKS images on Zazzle they should have noticed the key differences between what those images used and what they have trademarked. Hopefully they are a reputable company and will correct their mistake and notify Zazzle of their error in having those images removed.