Monday, November 19, 2007

Intellectual Property Inanity: Genes, Surnames, Our Past

I've just finished reading Michael Crichton's Next, a hoot of a book that totally skewers the patenting of genes (along with a lot of other harmful trends in scientific and medical research). He makes a convincing case for ending the patenting of genes and a lot of other naturally occuring material. As the strangely inspired judge states toward the end of the book:"It is a standing rule of law that our common heritage cannot be owned by any person. It is a standing rule that facts of nature cannot be owned." Indeed, the world needs a huge dose of sanity in matters of intellectual property." Amen to that!

Consider what happened to the person who bought cobb.com when I sold it at auction earlier this year. The guy has been in the IT business from way back, a bit like me. He figured he would create a portal out of the domain. (Not my idea of fun, but he won the domain fair and square, by out-bidding everyone else, and can do with it as he sees fit.) Then out of the blue he gets a threatening letter from a guy claiming to have trademarked Cobb and demanding the domain be turned over to him. According to this guy, who was not offering to pay the going rate for the domain, the only reason he had not threatened me over my use of cobb.com was because I was using the domain for family purposes. (I'd prefer to think it was because he recognized, from the content on the site, that there was a chance I was slightly less better informed than the average domain owner.)

Anyone who can use Google will quickly determine that there are numerous businesses containing the word Cobb, some of which have been around for over a hundred years. Now, if Nissan can't deprive Mr. Uzi Nissan of the nissan.com domain, then I'd say there is little chance that a new product with Cobb in the name could successfully claim ownership of cobb.com, particularly when the product is not called Cobb because it derives from a person called Cobb.

In a quite different area of intellectual property, I am associated, as some readers will know, with a documentary film, Dare Not Walk Alone. My persistent efforts to keep this project alive have resulted in me becoming one of the producers of the film and a reluctant student of copyright issues. The latter came about because the motion picture industry is fraught with ownership demands. Film your hero walking past a distinctive building? Better watch out or the owner of the landmark will demand payment. And be prepared for paperwork if your leading man and woman embrace in front of the Eifel Tower at night (or in front of the Hollywood sign at any hour).

Basically you need permission for these shots. And you definitely need permission, and a big bank balance, to show old TV news footage of events that would not be worth anything if we the people had not caused them to occur. In other words, the public creates an event, like a march, and the people who film it get to charge money for the film they took, forever. Most old TV news footage is now owned by big corporations (GE, Westinghouse, Disney, etc.). And they want to monetize it whenever they can. Making an educational film? You still have to pay the piper to replay our past.

But what if you are a big media corporation and you need some content? It is often easier and cheaper to steal it than to create it. I know of at least one Academy Award winning script that was stolen. The folks who stole it finally paid the originator of the script, but probably considered it a fair deal. The script was really good and the movie made buckets of money. Toss the real writer a few million and you are stil way ahead. And just recently a good friend of mine went to see a big Hollywood movie and ended up seeing a big screen version of his novel. He's going to sue. And I don't blame him. I just feel so bummed out sometimes that our world has come to this. Stealing what belongs to other, just to save a buck or an ego.

1 comment:

  1. I saw http://cobbsblog.com/blog/?p=18 and wanted to mention a useful site: http://www.FreePatentsOnline.com

    It provides free patent searching, free PDF downloading, allows annoting documents and sharing them, and free alerts for new documents.

    If you have a spot, a link to let your users know abou the site would be great.

    ReplyDelete