Every July 4th, we celebrate an American tradition with food, friends, family, and, of course, fireworks. While fireworks are generally easy to procure, depending on what state you are in, few know about the surprisingly high amount of intellectual property challenges that fireworks manufacturers and vendors face today. The following discusses the IP challenges as well as forms of intellectual property protection for fireworks.
Google Prohibits Online Advertising for Fireworks
One of the first challenges comes from advertising online. While fireworks are a popular search term online, keen observers might notice that searches for fireworks do not yield top hits for vendors and online stores like most search results would. Similarly, fireworks never appear in targeted or paid ads on popular search engines like Google or Bing.
The reason for this comes from Google’s legal policies. In its AdWords legal policies, Google explicitly states that they will not promote fireworks in targeted advertising because fireworks and pyrotechnic devices are considered too dangerous to promote. As such, Google’s AdWords partners, like AOL, are similarly limited by such policies.
To get around these rules, fireworks advertisers use many creative workarounds. One popular workaround is to spell “fireworks” differently. In some advertisements, the keyword for “fire-works” is spelled incorrectly with a hyphen. Firework vendors also commonly run ads selling “party favors” or rely on consumers to search for their products under specific brand or product names such as “Black Cat” or “Roman Candles.”
Copyright Protection for Fireworks
In contrast, another intellectual property challenge that is fireworks-related concerns copyrights of firework shows. From the Fourth of July to the Olympics, fireworks often take center stage at large, public events. As such, some artists have attempted to copyright their firework shows.
Responding to these requests, the U.S. Copyright Office states that they will review each request on a case-by-case basis. Because visual arts must be in a tangible medium of expression to qualify for copyright protection, many artists rely on registering copyrights of photographs or video-recordings of their fireworks show. Since the firework display itself is not considered fixed, the fireworks show as a concept is not registerable.
Beware of Copyright Violations in Music During Fireworks Shows
Artists must also be mindful of the music they choose to accompany their fireworks shows. To avoid paying expensive licensing or royalty fees, artists either rely on music in the public domain or work with local radio stations to coordinate musical accompaniment. If the artists rely on a radio station to provide the music, radio stations simply need to adhere to blanket licenses they have already agreed to in order to air the display’s music.
Similarly, many tourist destinations, theme parks, or other fireworks shows rely on using original musical works to accompany their shows. This way, the organizers can avoid paying any type of royalties for the music and dodge claims of copyright infringement.
Patent Protection for Fireworks
Another route commonly used to protect fireworks is patent protection. Several patents have been issued to register the design of specific fireworks. For example, the Walt Disney Company owns several firework patents, including patents that cover distinctive shell configurations. These configurations cover fireworks that create specific shapes or designs in the sky that are representative of the Walt Disney Company.
Trademark Protection for Fireworks
Lastly, trademark registration also provides a popular source of intellectual property protection for fireworks manufacturers. Most fireworks companies pursue registration of specific brands or logos associated with their products to protect their goods from infringement. The real challenge, however, often comes from knockoffs or counterfeit goods from China. Many fireworks brand owners often encounter difficulty with policing their fireworks brands online due to the online ban of advertising on search engines. Similarly, many foreign companies often illegally use trademarked images on their fireworks products but often face little to no repercussion due to the sheer number of fireworks trafficked or sold.
In the end, the practice of selling fireworks faces unique intellectual property challenges. Fortunately, fireworks vendors have a number of solutions available to gain intellectual property protection for fireworks and to help navigate the challenges they face both legally and responsibly.
In addition to Thriving Attorney, Darin M. Klemchuk is founder of Klemchuk LLP, a litigation, intellectual property, and transactional law firm located in Dallas, Texas. He also co-founded Project K, a charity devoted to changing the world one random act of kindness at a time. Click to read more about Darin Klemchuk's practice as an intellectual property lawyer.