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Abstract

Statutory dilution claims are traditionally justified on the theory that even non-confusing uses of a famous trademark (or similar mark) can nonetheless minutely dilute the source-identifying capacity of the targeted trademark. This Article challenges that theory. The evidence that this phenomenon occurs is weak and has been subject to substantial empirical challenge. The true foundation for dilution claims lies not in alleged economic harms, but rather the misplaced fiction of corporate personality. We do not require trademark holders to prove actual economic injury in the context of a dilution claim because, at least in the vast majority of cases, there is none. Instead, we have granted the holders of famous trademarks the equivalent of a “moral” right to these marks, analogous to the rights granted to a creator of an expressive work in the copyright context. The parameters of that right have recently expanded in numerous ways that have increasingly burdened both competition and free speech. Recasting dilution law in a moral rights framework allows us to more accurately assess its costs and benefits, with normative implications for its continued existence and scope. In particular, the federal dilution statute should be repealed, amended, or, at the very least, narrowly construed.