Dutch conceptual artist Florentijn Hofman intended to bring joy to the world when he first unveiled his oversized rubber duck sculpture in 2007. He hoped the giant inflatable bathroom toy would conjure up spectators’ childhood memories.
As it already had in cities and countries around the world, the Rubber Duck project created a buzz when it came to Taiwan.
However, in an unexpected twist, the duck’s arrival triggered an intellectual property rights row, with event organizer the Keelung City Government taking advantage of Hofman’s popular inflatable sculpture by selling unauthorized yellow duck-themed products.
It is a sham and a disastrous turn of events for Taiwan that this artistic display has been spoiled and turned into a farce.
Disputes arose between the artist and event organizers as all kinds of unauthorized rubber ducks were put on sale before the arrival of the gigantic Rubber Duck in Keelung Harbor. These ugly, cheap ducks ruffled Hofman’s feathers. He claimed his copyright had been infringed by the organizers and he considered lodging a lawsuit against the Keelung City Government and former event planner Jerry Fan (范可欽).
The Taiwan Smart Card Corp also allegedly infringed the copyright by issuing duck-themed stored-value cards.
In addition to the sale of counterfeit rubber duck-themed products, the Keelung City Government also sold tickets for two newly established yellow duck exhibition halls, which totally contradicts Hofman’s vision of bringing people happiness by floating the giant yellow duck around the world. The artistic effect envisioned by Hofman has been completely ignored.
With these commercial activities surrounding Keelung harbor, where the Rubber Duck is stationed, it is almost impossible for anyone to feel the tranquility and simplicity the sculpture was intended to evoke.
To show his strong disapproval of the local government’s activities, Hofman refused to attend a ceremony marking the arrival of the duck. Hofman called the whole thing a “commercial circus.”
In a ridiculous defense of his actions, Fan said there had been no violation of intellectual property rights as the iconic yellow rubber duck is the common property of all mankind and does not belong to any individual. Fan quit his job because of the controversy.
The dispute to some extent reflects weak awareness of intellectual property rights violation in Taiwan and indicates that public eduction should be stepped up.
What makes the situation worse is that the Keelung City Government originally planned to install a mechanism to rotate the sculpture through a full 360 degrees. The idea was dropped following Hofman’s disapproval, but the incident showed the government’s lack of taste and respect for pop culture.
In recent years, Taiwan has made constant efforts to lose its notorious reputation for making illegal replicas by stepping up intellectual property protection regulations and cracking down on those who break them. The country has achieved considerable success in this regard and in 2009 it was removed from the US Trade Representative’s Special 301 Report of countries with insufficient intellectual property rights protection.
Do not let the country’s efforts to protect intellectual property rights be in vain. Stop buying and selling cheap knockoffs of the Rubber Duck.
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