"You’re Fired™?"

Commentary from Findlaw: The Donald’s New Game of Trademark Monopoly: Can Trump Register the Rights to the Words “You’re Fired”?

Will he prevail in trademarking a phrase that only the nastiest of bosses dare to utter? Possibly – but in legal reality, The Donald will never fully “own” these terms of termination.

[…] Unlike copyrights, trademarks don’t give their owners unlimited rights to use phrases for all purposes. Indeed, trademarks were only designed to protect a merchant’s efforts to distinguish his brands from those of his rivals. As the law seeks to stop competitors from tricking consumers as to the source of goods, trademark rights only extend to phrases when used in marketing or advertising.

Unless a phrase is used to fool consumers, anyone is free to use it regardless of how unique it may be. Thus, even if Trump proves that “You’re Fired” is distinctive enough for a trademark, he will only win the exclusive right to market the phrase. Since he can’t get a monopoly on non-competitive uses, nasty bosses may continue to “fire” away without writing royalty checks to the man who “popularized” the expression.

[…] What’s the legal test? To get his trademark, The Donald must establish that the slogan carries a “secondary meaning” which identifies America’s most flamboyant entrepreneur. Put another way, Trump must show that Americans link this phrase directly to him – so closely that this connection has actually become part of its meaning.

Art, Adaptation and Expression

Disappointment in the "new" versions of childrens’ books: Abridged too far

Furthermore, it’s clear that the cartoonification of both the text and illustrations of “The Wind in the Willows” is no accident, no amateur mistake. Taken as a whole, it appears the Great Illustrated Classics has a mission, that being to make all the classics as accessible, and ultimately as vacant, as a third-rate comic book. There must be good marketing in that, since commerce and busy parents don’t always have time for art.

It’s painfully ironic that today’s children — whose alarmingly low reading rates are the subject of endless educational debates — are nonetheless willy-nilly expected to read the classics to themselves earlier than children of any previous generation. ABDO has created a self-perpetuating marketing niche. The more parents buy their series, the less reading aloud will go on, so the more children will fail to gain the sophisticated literacy it would take to read the original for themselves, so the more they will need watered-down versions. Even if these watered-down versions go unread, there will be well-meaning parents who will buy them anyway, hoping.

There’s another force to be reckoned with in this process, and that is the Walt Disney Co.

If the Great Illustrated Classic of “The Wind in the Willows” is actually faithful to anything, that would be the many animated versions that have spun off from Grahame’s book over the years. When Disney ate Milne’s treasure, the evidence was everywhere. There are the trademark cartoon figures; there is the text that retells the popular cartoon more than Milne’s stories. Fittingly, the Disney versions are to be found under “D” in our library’s children’s section. Under “M” you may, if you are lucky, find “The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh,” by Milne himself, intact and full of their original wit.

But the Disneyfication of “The Wind in the Willows” is more insidious. Because, as Evil Clones are wont to do, Disney’s Toad has gone back to wipe out the original, replace it with himself and cover his tracks. Only those who know to poke around will discern the plunder, and by that time the real treasure may be long gone. When our library’s vintage copies of “The Wind in the Willows” finally wear out, the Great Illustrated Classic, with its sturdy library binding will be all that’s left. And the only hint of the desecration will be the ambiguous but friendly “adapted by” bit on the title page. We’ll find Mole sick of cleaning. Toad flinging horrid little wagons. Mole sitting in his chair with a bubble of Badger over his head. Cleansed of “divine discontent and longing,” bereft of “poetry of motion,” with Mole never taking time out to smell Home, Little Portly neither lost nor found, and no Pan pipes to be forgotten by Rat or reader. Greatly diluted and poorly illustrated “classics” will be the literary legacy left to our children.

[…] Childhood is a sweet time, and an innocent one. But my child knows pain, sorrow, desires and their restraint, friendships tested and found true, people who let you down again and again and you love them anyway. Kenneth Grahame spoke from his heart, bestowing a gift that my daughter can open more and more fully each year. My daughter deserves nothing less than the gifts of artists. What I want for her is precisely what the Great Illustrated Classics wants to leave out. The unfathomable mystery of intimacy and glimpses of its inner workings. A taste of the dangers of the world. The jaw-dropping beauty of language. The heartbeat of the artist.

Beware the white binding with the red and black letters.

Some Music & Entertainment Biz

  • Prince Opens Online Music Store

    Prince’s love-hate relationship with the mainstream music industry takes another turn today as he opens his online Musicology Download Store (www.npgmusicclub.com), turning his back on download services like Napster, Rhapsody and Apple’s iTunes.

    The move comes a week after Prince appeared to be cottoning to an industry he once compared to a form of slavery, announcing that he would team with Sony Music Entertainment’s Columbia Records to release his new album, “Musicology.”

    […] Most artists receive a part of the 65 or 70 cents that their labels receive from a 99-cent download sale at online stores, said Josh Bernoff, a vice president at Forrester Research. He said Prince could sell half as many songs through store and still make more money than through sales at a store like iTunes.

  • A Web Refugee Turns to Music and Says, ‘The Sky’s the Lid’

    Jeffrey T. Arnold his seen his future – in a soda cup.

    About 16 months ago, Mr. Arnold, a co-founder and former chief executive of the WebMD Corporation, was visiting Los Angeles when a colleague showed him a lid for a 34-ounce plastic soda cup. Tucked inside a transparent pocket were several coupons offered to customers at a convenience store. Mr. Arnold said he was dumbfounded.

    “I said, ‘Forget the coupons. What if this was entertainment? What if it was music on CD’s or movies on DVD’s or games?’ ” Mr. Arnold said. “I thought, ‘If this was entertainment, this could be a blowout.’ ”

  • Leisure Pursuits of Today’s Young Man

    Note to the television networks: Pete Brandel is not missing. He’s right here, but like a lot of other 20-something men he’s just not watching as much TV.

    Mr. Brandel, a 24-year-old real estate agent in Chicago, says that these days he looks to the Internet for news and entertainment. Television, he says, is bogged down by commercials and teasers that waste his time.

    “I’ll go to the Comedy Central Web site and download David Chappelle clips rather than wait to see them on TV,” he said.

    The television industry was shaken last October when the ratings from Nielsen Media Research showed that a huge part of a highly prized slice of the American population was watching less television.

  • A documentary look at the biz: Seeking Fame With Amps and Attitude

    For seven years, she followed both bands, interviewing their members and capturing their on- and off-stage triumphs and catastrophes, and a result is one of those heaven-sent narratives, like “Hoop Dreams” or “Startup.com,” in which the contingency and chaos of events coalesce into a resonant and satisfying story.

    If universities ever start graduate programs in rock stardom, “Dig!” will surely be a cornerstone of the curriculum, for it works as both an instruction manual and a cautionary tale. It’s like an extended gloss on that exuberant, cynical Byrds song that begins, “So you wanna be a rock ‘n’ roll star, well listen now, to what I say . . . ”

Busy Day — Light Posting Ahead

Between the ESD Symposium and teaching responsibilities, it’s going to be a light day for me.

A couple of quick things

  • IPNewsBlog points to Lawrence Solum’s cite of The Myth of the Software Patent Thicket: An Empirical Investigation of the Relationship Between Intellectual Property and Innovation in Software Firms — something to take with me for the low energy points of the day

  • While you’re over at Legal Theory Blog, take a look at a little pedagogy from Prof. Solum: Legal Theory Lexicon: Public and Private Goods

  • Wired on E-voting: How E-Voting Threatens Democracy — a call for physical verification of votes in e-voting systems

  • As Ted Rall pointed out last week, you may have freedom of speech, but no one says you have the right to actually be heard, apparently — from today’s NYTimes: Keeping Intellectual Borders Open

    Last September, the Office of Foreign Assets Control — part of the Treasury Department — made a surprising ruling. Publishers could publish works by authors living in certain countries, including Iran, Libya, Sudan and Cuba, but they couldn’t edit them. Those countries are subject to American economic sanctions, and the office decided that to consult with an author about a manuscript was against the rules. This was a novel interpretation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which explicitly exempts informational materials from economic embargoes. Naturally, the ruling had publishers and authors up in arms.

    The Treasury Department needs to remove this inappropriate restriction and do so promptly. Its practical effects do nothing to penalize the governments of sanctioned countries and everything to harm the very people who are most interested in a free and open exchange of literary and scientific ideas. This ruling is part of an unwelcome pattern since 9/11. In the name of security the administration has too often reacted in ways that diminish America’s role as a central exchange in the marketplace of ideas. Visas for foreign scientists, graduate students and artists have been unnecessarily restricted. The movement of American scientists has been restricted too.

    There are many weapons in the war against terrorism. One of the most powerful is the enlightened, rational values that America has come to stand for. Ideas pose no risk to us until we begin to try to control them.