Monday, September 20, 2010

Week 3: Mazzone, and a general unease

This week's readings left me with a sadly familiar feeling of unease. The system of laws in this country, in this case with regard to copyright, is at least nominally intended to protect all, but frequently ends up serving the interests of those with the most money.

To echo a sentiment expressed earlier by Mel, "it's all about the Benjamins." Does anyone really believe that the financial well-being of Lucasfilm (to borrow Daniel's example) was seriously threatened by a smartphone calling itself "droid?"? The plaintiff's argument in these sorts of cases always seems to involve the slippery slope concept - "If we let these folks violate our trademark, everyone will be doing it and the financial impact to our brand will be significant." Leaving aside the legal merits of whether or not Lucasfilm actually owns the word "droid", isn't it safe to say at this point, some 30 years after "A New Hope," that ship has sailed? "Droid" is as much a part of the vernacular as are other trademarked/copyrighted words - Kleenex, Zip-loc, Brillo, etc. One would think that common use of your brand name would amount to some sort of decisive victory in the marketplace. Apparently, that's not the case.

A similar case played out last year between Rockart Brewery, a small craft brewery in Vermont with limited distribution in the east coast, and the makers of Monster energy drink over Rockart's 10th anniversary barley wine, called "The Vermonster". That's right, because the name was phonetically similar, Monster's lawyers contended it might cause confusion with their product. Apparently, there are consumers who can't tell beer from sugar water, and Monster brought their suit hoping to prevail on the basis of being able to absorb the legal fees more easily than Rockart. Fortunately, Rockart was able to use the power of Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter to mount a successful public relations campaign against Monster that ultimately convinced them to drop their suit.

Rockart vs. Monster:

As Mazzone repeatedly points out, this sort of abuse - false copyright claims, and court cases on an overbroad application of the law - take place largely for the benefit of those with enough money to bring the legal actions and outspend their opponents in court. If there is to be any sort of public domain at all, it must be afforded the same legal protections as copyright.

1 comment:

  1. There's an interesting twist -- using social media to mount an attack against a company to get them to drop a lawsuit (and, likewise, the grassroots organizing to educate people about the jazz industry in Europe). Is that where we are headed? In some cases, probably yes. Maybe there is hope that the people can band together to work for justice and fairness.