Hacking Trademark Law for Collaborative Communities

91 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2014 Last revised: 19 Jul 2015

See all articles by Yana Welinder

Yana Welinder

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society; Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society

Stephen LaPorte

Wikimedia Foundation

Date Written: August 5, 2014


Collaborative communities create popular work with widely recognized brands, such as Wikipedia, Linux, Android, and Firefox. Trademark law can provide protections to members of these communities and the users of their products so that they can rely on the brands to identify the original projects. This Article explores the conflict between collaborative communities and trademark law. While collaborative communities thrive on openness and decentralization, trademark law requires centralized quality control and various formalities.

This Article introduces a descriptive taxonomy of “hacks” that collaborative communities have used to try to mitigate the tensions between their values and trademark law. These hacks are supported by a range of examples that illustrate their effectiveness and limitations in practice. Using the recent Wikimedia Trademark Policy as a case study, this Article proposes a public trademark policy for collaborative communities, similar to how Creative Commons serves as a hack for copyright law. Some of the hacks discussed in this Article are largely unprecedented, or may be combined in new ways to improve their effectiveness. As many other types of hacks, the trademark hacks outlined in this Article may ultimately need to be replaced by code that provides a more holistic patch to the identified “bug” in the trademark system.

Keywords: collaborative communities, trademark, intellectual property, open source, free culture, internet law

Suggested Citation

Welinder, Yana and LaPorte, Stephen, Hacking Trademark Law for Collaborative Communities (August 5, 2014). Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal, Vol. XXV, No. 1, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2476779 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2476779

Yana Welinder (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

Stephen LaPorte

Wikimedia Foundation ( email )

149 New Montgomery Street, 3rd Floor
San Francisco, CA
United States

HOME PAGE: http://wikimediafoundation.org

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