File this under absurd abuse of power: The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is threatening to sue dinnerware purveyor Fishs Eddy, because the store sells a line of plates, saucers and cups featuring a vintage view of the skyline of Manhattan. The pattern, used for years, includes the silhouettes of the Twin Towers destroyed on 9-11. And therein lies the rub, because in a cease and desist letter sent July 24 to husband-and-wife owners David Lenovitz and Julie Gaines, the PA alleges that the pattern “evoke[s] thoughts of the Port Authority, the twin towers, W.T.C. and the September 11th terrorist attack,” and “interferes with the Port Authority’s control of its own reputation.”
Why the PA has waited until now to show its hurt feelings is unknown. The couple, however, is used to legal confrontations over their skyline pattern. In 1998, the owners of the Chrysler Building threatened take them to court for including the midtown icon.
This isn’t the first time that a state agency has come down hard on a local business for a trademark violation either. Back in 2006, the MTA went after F Line Bagels located next to the Smith and 9th Street stop in Brooklyn because its sign included the familiar orange-and-white F train logo. The MTA’s reasoning was that riders might think the store was affiliated with NYC Transit Authority, which at least seems somewhat plausible compared to the PA’s legal justification. F Line’s proprietors at first complied with the order, but then, in an F-you to the MTA, they replaced the signage with a backwards version.
It’s unlikely that Lenovitz and Gaines have a similarly slick move up their sleeves, though they could replace the Twin Towers with the newly erected One World Trade Center. That doesn’t solve the problem of saving the current inventory of the very popular items, which the PA wants destroyed. In any case, the PA would probably sue them for using the building formerly known as the Freedom Tower. So far, the couple is refusing to back down. As for the PA, it appears to have lost control of its own reputation.