IP at MoJo

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Mother Jones has an amusing list of instances of intellectual property "run amok."

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  1. I realize Wikipedia isn’t always right, but its explanation of the Bettmann archive makes it sound like this article’s inclusion of its “burial” is misleading, to say the least.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bettmann_Archive

  2. WWF will ALWAYS mean Worldwide Wrestling Federation!

  3. The list failed to include the landmark 1986 (I think) California case in which Dan Fogerty was successfully sued by Fantasy Records for plagiarizing his own song.

  4. I think thats John Fogerty, of CCR, right?

  5. John Fogerty was sued by Fantasy records for allegedly plagerizing CCR songs in his solo song “The Old Man is Down the Road.” The suit was not successful after Fogerty got on the stand guitar in hand and explained to the jury how he wrote the various songs and the differences in the cord progressions. Amazing that it even happened.

  6. BILL GATES had the 11-million-image Bettmann Archive buried 220 feet underground. Archivists can access only the 2% that was first digitized.

    WTF?????

  7. 42% OF ALL VIDEO files shared online are pornographic. No porn-sharing cases have yet been tried in the U.S.

    I never thought of that, but you know file sharing has certainly made the porn industry unprofilable. Wow. I guess the record industy has a point after the dark warning of the demise of the porn industry due to file sharing.

  8. Ugh, it was John Fogerty. What I get for doing two things at once. The fact that the suit wasn’t dismissed on summary judgment is the scariest part about it.

  9. Prelim Note: the heavily redacted portions are from the linked article — you have to go to the article if you hope to make any sense of my responses. Responded only to non-copyright ones. Copyright law is run amok. I found it kind of unfair that the article conflated (or at least commingled) a lot of valid copyright problems with bogus non-problems.

    MICROSOFT contest . . . finalists had to sign away “all intellectual property rights” . . .

    So what? Its their contest. Nobody has to enter.

    . . . 5% of patents . . . commercial value.

    Unlike securities, which always go up. Lots of investments have risks comparable to this. the 95% without commercial value aren’t hurting anyone. If they could hurt someone then they would have commercial value pretty much by def’n.

    U.S. INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY is valued at $5.5 trillion . . .

    I don’t know if this is a problem or not.

    NINETY-ONE pending trademarks bear Donald Trump’s name . . .

    This is another “so what?” Who is he hurting? If he trademarked the phrase “you’re fired” then there would be people to sue. Notice that this is exactly the trademark he didn’t get. (the article is coyly unclear as to whether Trump was rejexted on this or simply failed to even apply).

    . . . human genes are patented . . .

    This I think is a real problem. I have gone into my preferred solution at length on a couple threads here.

    HUEY NEWTON’S widow is trademarking the phrase “Burn, Baby, Burn” for use as a BBQ sauce slogan.

    So what?

    . . . 13-year battle over the title “Surf City USA,” . . .

    I don’t think trademark law is the real problem here.

    GEORGE FOREMAN has earned $113 million by lending his name to a grill.

    So?

    “SENSORY TRADEMARKS” include a duck quacking . . .

    Article implies that these sound/touch/other sense trademarks broadly apply to any business that would want to use, say, a duck quacking. The reality is that these trademarks are limited in the same way that image trademarks are. For one thing, the tm owner will only be able to enforce against businesses somewhat similar to its own. For another, a tm applicant can’t claim something in widespread, common use as his own — for example, a casino would probably not be allowed to register the sound of coins falling in the tray of a slot machine. Its been done. To death.

    AFTER INTEL . . . coined the term “patent troll.”

    Wow. Actual namecalling. Barbaric I tells ya.

    THE WORLD WRESTLING Federation changed its name . . .

    Sounds unexceptional to me.

    HOOTERS SUED . . . “trade dress,” . . .

    Sounds unexceptional to me.

    . . . removed “Super” from the comic book title . . .

    Sometimes ya gotta call bullshit. In this case it was bullshit about ip. Once again, trademark law doesn’t seem like the real problem here.

    . . . sued two small L.A. shops for selling $15 pi?atas . . .

    Yeah and if were $15 worth of shoplifting by two teenagers, then Disney could have called the tax funded police dept and had the offenders punished at taxpayer expense.

    . . . “The Jewish Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” They renamed it Jewsrock.org. . . .

    So what’s the problem? Whatever it was, sounds like they found a good solution.

    AFTER ROSA PARKS sued OutKast . . .

    The suit was ridiculous. The label should have fought it instead of caving. The fact that they settled probably had more to do with the fact that Rosa Parks is Rosa Parks than it does with any particular right of personality law problem.

    PATENT LAWSUITS . . . doubled . . .

    I am not sure that this is a problem. Many patents are ridiculous, but the ones that make it to court usually aren’t. At least in my experience, which is admittedly moderate.

    . . . claiming ownership of 10,000 phrases . . .

    Rentamark.com would probably also sell you the Brooklyn Bridge if you asked.

  10. It’s obvious why the World Wildlife Fund challenged the World Wrestling Federation for exclusive rights to the “WWF” name.

    Just think about how easily consumers could confuse the two organizations, especially if they ever held an event with a steroid-laden man wrestling a giant panda (which I’d certainly pay to see).

  11. . . . human genes are patented . . .

    This I think is a real problem. I have gone into my preferred solution at length on a couple threads here.

    I have mixed feelings about this. The human gene isn’t patented, only its description as described by a particular source. If you want to decode a human genome, buy a lab, hire some genetic scientists, and go to work. What these outfits that did the patenting are trying to protect is their investment in provisional knowledge.

    Let’s pretend that I spend $1 million decoding the gene sequence of a sunflower- then the government, or some other private group tells me to hand over my notes. Why? Make your own notes.

    Anyone have a different perspective?

  12. Does anyone else remember a flap a few years ago when Metallica sued Victoria’s Secret because they released a new lipstick or undergarment or something that they dubbed “Metallica”?

    And don’t forget the flap over the soft drink Surge in the late 1990’s.

  13. The Harry Potter anti-piracy nuttiness mentioned in the list is here to stay. I attended an advanced screening of the Ice Age sequel last weekend where security guys hired by the studio were wanding people and checking purses to look for verboten cell phone cameras. I know when I hear about illegally leaked movies, I immediately think of moms and their six year olds.

  14. Modern Day PJ Federico-There’s no *problem* with any of it. It’s just an amusing commentary on modern life. For Christ’s sake, get a sense of humor.

  15. “Just think about how easily consumers could confuse the two organizations, especially if they ever held an event with a steroid-laden man wrestling a giant panda (which I’d certainly pay to see).”

    I don’t know, the World Wrestling Federation could cold-call people and ask if they’d like to support the Animal with a donation to the WWF, and the poor dupes wouldn’t realize they meant George ‘the Animal’ Steele.

  16. This is just like everything else in Mother Jones; Completely meaningless and unassuming.

  17. Make that unamusing
    (stupid spell checker)

  18. Correct me if I’m wrong, but one reason companies go after any violations of their intellectual property, no matter how trivial (e.g., Disney suing the LA shops for selling Disney character pinatas) is because allowing an exception could be used against them should a much larger violation occur. A defendent could argue that the company, knowing its IP rights were violated in the past and failing to address it, forgeits its right to defend them in the future. In other words, if a company doesn’t defend ALL KNOWN violations of its IP rights, it cannot suddenly start enforcing them.

  19. Applying the phrase “intellectual property” to Hollywood movies is oxymoronic.

    MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.’s estate charges academic authors $50 for each sentence of the “I Have a Dream” speech that they reprint.

    I wonder what the estate of the real author, Archibald Carey, thinks about that.

  20. THE PUBLISHER of Super Hero Happy Hour removed ?Super? from the comic book title after Marvel and DC Comics stated they own the phrase ?super heroes and variations thereof.?

    Marvel and DC go to absurd lengths on this. They’ve trademarked “super hero” and “superhero,” and they’re working on “super-hero.” Publishers of independent games on the subject have to come up with absurd circumlocutions.

    I think intellectual property has a place, but it’s certainly gotten out of hand. Of course, I think that I’m on the losing side of this battle; for the next few centuries, at least, IP will be the most valuable property (as land was in agrarian societies and capital was in industrial societies), and the big guys will lock up their control of it. In the case of IP, this will mean draconian laws on the subject, because it’s hard to copy your farmland or factory, but it’s easy to copy your IP, and copying it doesn’t harm you as much as stealing your land or capital would. I think that we’re going to have to deal with absurdly restrictive laws on this subject, because that’s the only way to keep power in the hands of the few rather than the many, and they’re not going to give up that power.

  21. Also, the fact that US IP value is greater than the GDP of any nation other than China is meaningless. You’re comparing flows to stocks, and in this case in the wrong way. If the US created more IP every year than the value of any other nations’ economy, that would be something to talk about. To say that the value of all US IP accumulated over the last 80 years is greater than the value created every year in any other nation is, while interesting, not that impressive.

  22. one reason companies go after any violations of their intellectual property, no matter how trivial (e.g., Disney suing the LA shops for selling Disney character pinatas) is because allowing an exception could be used against them should a much larger violation occur. A defendent could argue that the company, knowing its IP rights were violated in the past and failing to address it, forgeits its right to defend them in the future. In other words, if a company doesn’t defend ALL KNOWN violations of its IP rights, it cannot suddenly start enforcing them.

    This is the pitch that trademark litigators use to get business. The actual law of trademark abandonment may not be this strict. Depends on how you want to trade off legal risk against leagal fees (to write all the c&d letters).

    Disney is probably more risk averse than the average trademark owner because trademarks are more of a core asset for them than for most businesses.

  23. The WWF issue is misleading too. The case wasn’t an IP issue, it was a private contract dispute. The World Wrestling Federation had signed an agreement with the World Wildlife Fund in the early 1990s agreeing not to use the initials WWF in promotion or product naming. The agreement was the result of negotiations over competing trademark claims filed by the two organizations and was willingly signed by both sides.

    The Federation violated on the agreement multiple times over the years by using wwf.com as its website and putting the WWF name on several of its products. The Fund served notice in 2000 of its intent to seek damages as set out in the agreement. A court (in Britain, not the U.S.) ordered the Federation to comply with the agreement, and to come to an agreement to pay damages to the Fund. The Fund agreed to a settlement where the Federation would not have to pay monetary damages if it agreed to change its name to World Wrestling Enterprises.

  24. The WWF issue is misleading too.
    Well, it was just Mother Jones.

    WWF v WWE?

    A modest proposal: they should merge to form the WWWF: the World Wildlife Wrestling Funderation.

    From The Onion: “WWE: Illegal Mexican Wrestlers Taking Smackdowns American Wrestlers Don’t Want”

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