A company in Florida filed a trademark on “Louise Brooks” and has used that to remove all Louise Brooks items off of Etsy in order for its company to sell its own Louise Brooks products. My understanding is that all publicity photos taken back in the 1920s and 1930s were never copyrighted, therefore, in the public domain, especially if the photographer is unidentified. Is this legal for a company to suddenly do this? Louise Brooks has never had an active estate before … to the best of my knowledge.
It’s a tribute to Mary Louise “Lulu” Brooks (who would have been 114 this year), that merchandise with her image is still popular. It’s probably attributable to her jazz icon persona, the availability of public domain imagery, her always-stylish bob haircut, and the fact that her estate has not exerted control over the sale of Brooks goods (the estate is not behind the series of takedowns you mentioned). Instead, vendors had operated laissez-faire, selling a wide range of goods until December 2019, when a Florida company acquired the exclusive right to use the Louise Brooks trademark on over 40 types of merchandise (listed below).