Rita Heimes


Intellectual property scholars have written extensively against expanding the scope of intellectual property laws, using social justice and distributive justice principles to support their arguments. A typical argument attacks broad adoption and enforcement of copyright laws that prevent access to information and therefore knowledge, or broad patent protection that reduces access to medicines and other important technologies. In recent years, a few scholars have begun to suggest that certain areas of intellectual property law—primarily copyright—may play a positive role in social justice. These arguments are founded on views of social and distributive justice that consider personal empowerment and freedom to pursue opportunity as viable goals. Very little has been written, however, on the role of trademark law and publicity rights on development and social justice. Several factors support examining these issues. Minorities in the United States are far less likely than non-minorities to seek trademark protection, placing the role of attorneys in assisting underrepresented populations with intellectual property acquisition into question. Additionally, social media has made overnight celebrity and personal branding a real possibility for many individuals, regardless of their socioeconomic status. This article explores the role of trademark and identity law in promoting self-sufficiency and self-reliance among underserved populations. It examines both areas of law through the lens of social justice and personal empowerment. It concludes that a basis in social justice for assisting individuals with acquiring and protecting trademark and identity rights may overcome the broad societal concerns about over-protection of intellectual property rights.