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Albrecht Dürer’s Enforcement Actions: A Trademark Origin Story

Posted by on Wednesday, June 28, 2023 in Articles, Volume 25, Volume 25, Issue 3.

Peter J. Karol | 25 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. L. 421 (2023).

This Article offers a trademark-framed reappraisal of a pair of extraordinary enforcement actions brought by the Northern Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) against copyists of his work. These cases have long been debated by art, cultural, and copyright historians insofar as they appear to reject Dürer’s demand for protocopyright protection. Commentators have also contested the historicity of one of the two narratives. But surprisingly little attention has been paid by trademark scholars to the companion holdings—in the same texts—that affirm Dürer’s right to prevent the use of his monogram on unauthorized reproductions.

This Article seeks to fill that gap by analyzing Dürer’s cases through the lens of twenty-first-century trademark theory. It argues that, properly contextualized and understood, the cases provide remarkable and early accounts of two tribunals giving prototrademark relief to a famous artist and his brand. They mark a critical moment in trademark history even if portions of the underlying narratives are unreliable. More broadly, they invite us to reconceptualize the role of artists and aesthetics as a concealed but core aspect of trademark law’s otherwise commercial and industrial legal history.

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