If you want to make fun of Mickey or Barbie on your website, you may be hearing from some corporate lawyers. You should also think twice about calling something "fair and balanced" or publicly using Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. It may be illegal. Or it may be entirely legal, but the distinction doesn't matter if you can't afford a lawyer.
More and more, "content owners" are asserting property rights in every conceivable creation — not just visual images and musical riffs, but words, letters, facts and even smells. While these episodes may be absurdly funny, they are also grim omens for the future of creativity and free expression. Brand Name Bullies probes the complexities of this terrain with wit, passion and fresh insight.
The stories would seem silly, embarrassing, or flat-out hilarious, if they weren't so frightening:
- ASCAP once tried to charge the Girl Scouts for the right to sing songs around a campfire.
- J.R.R. Tolkien's estate threatened to sue a children's entertainer for calling himself "Gandalf the Wizard Clown."
- Companies and author's estates have claimed ownership rights in sports scores, historic facts and even Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
- George Harrison lost a lawsuit accusing him of "subconsciously copying" the Chiffon's song, "He's So Fine" when he wrote "My Sweet Lord."
- Did you know that it is illegal to name a sporting event the "Gay Olympics" or a portable toilet business "Here's Johnny!"?
Such outrageous stories are no longer rare exceptions. They are evidence of the rapid expansion of "intellectual property" and its harm to creativity and free expression. With example after example, Brand Name Bullies explains how unprecedented expansions of intellectual property law are jeopardizing the future of music, art, literature, scientific research and business innovation.
DAVID BOLLIER has worked for twenty-five years as a journalist, activist, and public policy analyst. He is cofounder of Public Knowledge, a public-interest advocacy organization dedicated to defending the information commons. He is also Senior Fellow at the Norman Lear Center, USC Annenberg School for Communication, and Editor of the web portal and blog, OntheCommons.org. Bollier's previous book was Silent Theft: The Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth (Routledge, 2002).
by David Bollier, Co-founder of Public Knowledge and author of Silent Theft: The Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth
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