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The Royal Family Is Fiercely Protective of Its Brand—Until a Royal Wedding Rolls Around

May 18, 2018, 11:25 AM UTC

The Royal Wedding between Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle on Saturday, May 19 is nearly here. If you’re still contemplating how to commemorate the occasion, gift shops in Britain have you more than covered.

Keeping with Royal Wedding tradition, memorabilia manufacturers have rolled out a slew of Royal Wedding merchandise—from the tasteful to the downright weird.

There are the expected commemorative coffee mugs, featuring the faces of the bride and groom. Tea towels depicting Windsor Castle, where the couple will wed, are also available to mark the wedding date.

Commemorative Tea Towels Are Printed Ahead Of The Royal Wedding
Jack Taylor—Getty Images
Jack Taylor—Getty Images

Then there are wooden spoons, featuring the couple’s heads, jars of British food spread Marmite featuring a “Harry” or “Meghan” label, and, naturally, “Crown Jewels” condoms—a photograph of the couple appears on the packaging.

Preparations for Royal Wedding of Harry and Meghan
Leon Neal—Getty Images
Leon Neal—Getty Images

Upon taking in all the offerings, the question that comes to mind is not so much, “How can I possible choose?!” but more along the lines of: “Harry and Meghan really signed off on all this?” And the answer to the latter is yes, in a manner of speaking.

Under normal circumstances, the British royal family fiercely defends its intellectual property rights. In fact, 1994 trademark legislation protects against “the use of Royal Arms, Royal Devices, Emblems and Title” in “connection with any trade or business” or in a way that suggests the authorization of royal family members. Violating the act is a criminal offense. Likewise, the U.K.’s advertising standards offer specific guidances on using royal symbols in ads. Generally, members of the Royal family should not appear in marketing materials without prior permission.

But even a casual royal observer knows that the upcoming Royal Wedding is anything but a normal scenario. As such, Prince Harry himself agreed to a temporary relaxation of these rules to allow the use of royal photographs and insignia on souvenirs commemorating his engagement and marriage to Markle. That means commemorative goods featuring approved photographs of the couple and Harry’s coat of arms are allowed so long as they’re in “good taste, free from any form of advertisement, and carry no implication of Royal custom or approval.”

The Big Business Of Royal Weddings: A Selection Of Harry & Meghan Memorabilia
Chris Ratcliffe—Bloomberg via Getty Images
Chris Ratcliffe—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The souvenir guidelines specifically allow for some kinds of permanent “containers or receptacles,” “commemorative coins and medallions,” and, interestingly, “carpets, cushions, wall hangings and head scarves,” but not other textiles such as “articles of clothing, including T-shirts, drying up cloths and aprons.”

One of the trickiest points is the need for souvenirs to not be seen as advertisements. To tip-toe this careful line, says lawyer Joanna Conway of firm Norton Rose Fulbright, a brand’s logo shouldn’t appear next to the couple’s image. A commemorative plate, for instance, may display the name of the manufacturer on the underside, but it shouldn’t be “splashed across the front‎.”

The basic gist of the relaxed rules is for approved photographs and royal symbols to be used “within the bounds of good taste—and not on T-shirts or sandwich wrappers for example,” Conway says.

What happens if an image of the couple or a royal emblem is used in a way the tests those subjective parameters, like those condoms, perhaps?

Daniel Sorabji—AFP/Getty Images

The royal family “is not in the business of suing people,” says Janice Denoncourt, a senior lecturer at Nottingham Law School, so it’s likely that any enforcement of the relaxed rules would be done quietly when possible. She thinks the bride and groom might get a kick out of “cheeky” souvenirs, taking them “as part of the fun of celebrating,” though it is ultimately their call on whether items meet the official guidelines.

The rules were relaxed in a similar way for the Queen’s Jubilee in 2012 and for the 2011 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Denoncourt says the approach illustrates the royal family’s “good effort” to strike a balance between protecting its brand and fueling the festivities surrounding an event of national importance.

Though jovial spirits might not be the only motivation behind the move. It’ll also provide a bump to the U.K. economy. The Centre for Retail Research estimates that the Royal Wedding will result in £120 million in retail sales, £30 million of which will be from memorabilia.