} Merchandising and film promotion – keep the faith | ICAEW
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Merchandising and film promotion – keep the faith

A recent application by a retro bag selling company from Manchester to register a trade mark based on the traditional Northern Soul logo and the words "Keep The Faith – Northern Soul" has been refused by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO).

It was originally opposed by Brian Poulton who has a business selling retro Mod apparel in London, but through social media, many Northern Soul fans campaigned and gave testimonies. The opposition cited section 3.1 (d) of the Trade Marks Act 1994 which states that a trade mark shall not be registered if it, "…consists exclusively of signs or indications which have become customary in the current language or in the bona fide and established practices of the trade," (case reference 0-358-14 application 2647323).

Defending the heritage

Now, I have to declare that I have been a Northern Soul fan since the mid 1970s and still have a collection of sew on patches with black clenched fists and various slogans, including, "Keep The Faith," in my attic. So I am not surprised that so many fans rushed to defend our heritage and keep it for the people. I was also impressed to see that former Wigan Casino DJ Kev Roberts and the former owner of one of the most legendary all-nighters ever, The Golden Torch in Tunstall, Stoke on Trent, give evidence from the Northern Soul family.

I was further taken by the fact that the legal profession sees this as a case of some relevance in so far as it was not solely about two commercial enterprises determining which owned the trade mark, but defends the usage by the common man. I would like to use the phrase, "the man on the Clapham Omnibus", but I think, "the man on the Cleethorpes Omnibus," may be more appropriate, particularly as Cleethorpes Pier and Cleethorpes Winter Gardens both hosted top Northern Soul All-Nighters in the past and an annual Northern Soul Weekender in the present.

In its decision the IPO noted that usage of the motto and logo had become customary among other bag and accessory traders in the scene. These traders, rivals of the applicant, saw the logo solely as a generic badge of allegiance to the Northern Soul movement. Consequently, the logo could not be used as a distinctive trade make performing an essential distinguishing function.

The resurgence

Commentators on the case have noted, as did the IPO, the resurgence in interest in Northern Soul and this is being further stoked by the recent 2014 release of a film about the scene, entitled "Northern Soul". Although a drama, it follows a young lad's discovery of the scene in 1974 allowing the viewer to understand its characteristics. Again, I have to declare my interest here as I am the accountant for the film production company and was also an extra in the film, also providing some comment on how it was 'back in the day' to the director.

The film captures the era superbly and is as authentic as anyone could make it 40 years later on. I always believed that it was going to be in demand from soul fans from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s plus the 'newbies' stoking the current resurgence. However, the cinema industry probably didn't quite appreciate the size of the potential audience until campaigns on social media, Facebook and Soul Source in particular, urged fans to lobby their local cinemas. As a result the film has had a nationwide roll out across around 130 cinemas and fans campaigned for screenings despite the DVD coming out only three days after the theatrical release. Furthermore, it smashed the UK Box Office record for a three-day weekend at less than 100 cinemas (not all 130 showed in the first weekend). There were sell outs, extra screenings and reports of standing ovations during the credits.

Oh the irony, a 1970s scene leading the way in the use of modern social media for film promotion! Keep the faith everyone, it seems that people power and consumer influence are in rude health, as is Northern Soul. As for my health, I just wish my knees could stand up to stomping to Willie Mitchell's, "The Champion," like they could all those years ago!

Dave Morrison, Partner, Nyman Libson Paul 

Entertainment and Media Group, November 2014 


The views expressed are the author’s and not ICAEW’s.