Some members of police departments around the country have coopted The Punisher logo for their own use, a usage which is NOT authorized by Disney or Marvel.
Here is the whole story.
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Who Is The Punisher?
For many, The Punisher is a favorite character in the vast Marvel Comics universe.
If you aren’t familiar with The Punisher, you should know just a few things about him:
- Real name: Frank Castle
- Character: An ex-military man hellbent on revenge.
- Comparison: Think Batman if Bruce Wayne didn’t wear a costume and never left a bad guy alive.
- Source: Marvel Comics universe
Like Batman (DC Universe) or Iron Man (Marvel), he doesn’t have any “superpowers” per se.
But, what he does have is military knowhow, human strength, and a serious ability to hold grudges.
Here’s how Marvel Comics describes The Punisher on their official website:
Frank Castle was an honest ex-Marine with a family he loved. But when that family was murdered, he became a vigilante with a uniquely brutal brand of justice.Marvel Comics
From 2017-2019, the character had his own show on Netflix called, simply, The Punisher. Watch the trailer below, so you can get a sense of who we’re talking about here. (Note that you can see the logo emblazoned in big white paint on his shirt at one point, too.)
The Punisher Logo Controversy
In 2013, at an important time for the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, some police officers in the United States began to use the logo of The Punisher on their uniforms.
For one example, view the image below of a police officer in Baltimore with The Punisher’s logo on his uniform.
Look for the skull on the upper righthand side of his vest.
In 2020, this coopted usage has returned, as peaceful protestors make the case against racism and police brutality, among many other wrongs perpetrated in this country now, and for centuries past.
This usage of the logo was neither sponsored nor approved by The Walt Disney Company or Marvel Entertainment.
The Punisher Logo’s Creator Condemns Police Misusage
Many in the comics and fan communities are calling for Marvel and Disney to do something about the misuse of the Punisher logo.
One such individual is Gerry Conway, one of the Punisher’s logo creators (the other creator is John Romita Sr.).
In fact, Business Insider quotes Conway as saying that officers who have misused the logo in this way “should be fired immediately”. Below is a tweet from Conway on the subject from last year.
So, what’s the problem? Why can’t Disney and/or Marvel just tell them to cease and desist?
Here’s the Problem
The problem is this…
Due to trademark law, there’s a chance Disney/Marvel can’t do a whole lot about the Punisher logo misuse.
Now, I’m not a copyright or trademark lawyer. But, CBR writes at length about why a crackdown might never transpire.
The key problem with enforcing the use of the trademark with police officers, though, is found in the word trademark itself. A trademark, simply put, is a mark that is used in trade. This means that the intellectual property is being used in commerce. If the intellectual property is not being used in commerce, there is not a whole lot that the owners of the trademark can do about people using the trademark.CBR
In other words, the police officers aren’t using the logo to make money. This means Disney and Marvel’s hands may be tied.
The article on CBR goes on to note that this is much like buying a hat from your favorite baseball team. The team can’t dictate to you when or where you can wear that hat. It’s your hat, even though it has their logo on it.
Basically, it seems that Disney and Marvel might not legally be able get the police departments to stop using the logo. This is on First Amendment grounds, as well as the rights around trademarks discussed above.
What Can Disney and Marvel Do?
If they can’t force the police officers to stop wearing the Punisher logo on their uniforms, then what can they do?
Well, for one, Disney and Marvel can openly condemn the misuse of the logo by police officers. Thankfully, Disney and Marvel both have voiced solidarity with Star Wars actor John Boyega. In other words, they’re on the right side of history.
Of course, even denouncing the logo’s misuse isn’t likely to completely stop its usage across the board.
However, it might convince some members of the police force to stop wearing it altogether. I think we can all probably agree that this is at least a step in the right direction.
After all, Frank Castle is not a police officer. He’s a vigilante. He does not even pretend to uphold the law. As CBR points out, Marvel has an issue of the comic where the Punisher literally rips the skull logo off a police car. He then proceeds to tell the officers that he isn’t a role model for them to follow.
As far as an official Marvel position, it probably can’t get a whole lot clearer than that.
Of course, the issue is much deeper than some police officers using the famous Punisher skull logo. It’s that Frank Castle is an emblem of brutality and violence.
And that’s precisely the point here.
Police should help, protect, serve, defend. They shouldn’t be trying to imitate a brutally violent man.
Police brutality is a systemic problem that has needlessly resulted in the deaths of countless black people. This has to stop. There should be no debate about whether we ought to end racism in this country. It has to end. Full stop. Period. End of story.
The same goes for police violence. If the police officers involved here understood their role, they wouldn’t be identifying with Frank Castle in the first place.
Should members of the police departments in this country stop wearing the Punisher’s logo? Yes, absolutely, for all the reasons given here.
But we shouldn’t kid ourselves that that’s the whole problem. In fact, it’s really just a start. After that, we still have a very, very long way to go.
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