n 2008, Tracy and Kevin Carey began selling caps and t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase "Evil Empire" and demonic versions of the Yankees logo. The top hat was pierced by a pitchfork; the interlocking "NY" sported devil horns. The gear found a home in the Boston area, mostly in those second-rate stores that sell non-licensed merchandise. To reach a bigger audience, the Careys started a website.
"We had a good response in the Boston area, because of course Red Sox fans want to poke fun at the Yankees," says Tracy Carey. "But when we put it online, we were shocked to see how many Yankees fans were buying. They wear 'Evil Empire' as a badge of honor."
As they began to turn a profit, they checked to see if the phrase had been trademarked. It hadn't been. So the Careys (under their business Evil Enterprises Inc.) filed a trademark on the phrase "Baseball's Evil Empire."
That was in May of 2009, and the Careys didn't hear a thing for six months. Then, the Yankees won the World Series. Two weeks after that, the Yankees and MLB filed a notice with the US Patent and Trademark Office, announcing their intention to fight the Careys. The Evil Empire had come to Bridgehampton.
The ubiquitous phrase almost never entered the public discourse. In 1982, Ronald Reagan was scheduled to speak before the British House of Commons. A nuclear freeze was the order of the day, with the Soviet Union and most of the international community favoring a mutual rollback of arms. Reagan's strategy was the opposite: he wanted the United States' arsenal to exceed the Soviets' by such a margin that it would cow them into submission.
Can a 20-year-old phrase that wasn't originally about the Yankees be counted among their intellectual property? And if it can, do we have to credit the Yankees with restraint for not trying to make a buck off of it for this long?
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