If you have ever photographed the New York City skyline, be careful about what you plan to do with those photos afterward, because the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey have some crazy assertion that they “own” the image of skyscraper-filled Manhattan that’s recognized around the world. If you have some grand plan to sell your images, the Port Authority may come knocking.
Fishs Eddy, a store in New York City that sells housewares, carries a line of dinnerware, glassware, and other products, called “212 New York Skyline.” The products, however, feature not a photo, but an illustration of the skyline that shows the new 1 World Trade Center tower and the old Twin Towers, among other Port Authority properties. Even though it doesn’t depict actual, realistic images, the Port Authority served the store a cease-and-desist order, according to the New York Times, claiming that it could “evoke thoughts of the Port Authority, the twin towers, W.T.C., and the September 11th [sic] terrorist attacks,” and that the art “is of great concern.” Yep, the Port Authority is playing up the 9/11 clause and is afraid that what is essentially a cartoon, could bring up memories of that terrible event.
The Port Authority, which operates the area’s ports, bridges, airports, tunnels, and other infrastructure, as well as being the landowner of the World Trade Center site, is also after Fishs Eddy for other products that feature Port Authority properties. The agency says the store is “unfairly reaping a benefit from an association with the Port Authority and the [9/11] attacks.” As part of the cease-and-desist, it wants the Fishs Eddy merchandise destroyed. The products “interferes with the Port Authority’s control of its own reputation,” the agency tells the Times.
Fishs Eddy says it will keep selling the merchandise (the products are available on their website, and are some of the store’s most popular items), and points to the many other products that depict the skyline and the old Twin Towers. The Port Authority says those vendors are also getting cease-and-desist letters. It isn’t the first time Fishs Eddy has received such a demand: In 1998, the owners of the iconic Chrysler Building wanted the skyscraper’s image removed.
Whether or not the Port Authority has an actual case, it seems preposterous that a government agency could lay claim to a skyline, even if it’s an cartoon illustration of it. It seems the Port Authority is tired of people making money off something that it thinks it owns, and now wants to cash in. So, for photographers, artists, and anyone who use the New York City skyline in their work for profit, especially pre 9/11, the Port Authority might be calling. It’ll be interesting to see how far this gets.
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