Saturday, June 04, 2005

Their Their Copyright 

So... gmail is down. Seems like that's not a good sign for those of us who've decided to entrust google with our entire online presence. Not that I'm expecting anything too important -- after two weeks of receiving a couple hundred B and C-list celebrity sightings every day, an empty inbox has a pleasant quietude to it.

Anyway, just thought I'd point your attention to this odd little Times article about the MTA's intellectual property woes. I'm not gonna get all boing boing on you, but the tone of the article doesn't seem quite neutral... is it all that pirate-y of me to think that the images and icons of public transportation belong to... well, the public?

Long-ish excerpt:

The authority has been trying to crack down on the unauthorized use of its logos, symbols and images. But with only one lawyer to handle trademark issues, it has been ineffective at policing its brand. In fact, time and money are so scarce that the authority hasn't even been able to trademark all its subway route symbols, barely getting past the A, D, F, 1, 4 and 7.

In the past two years, the authority has issued more than 30 cease-and-desist letters alleging trademark infringement, but the sternly worded letters were not backed up with legal action. Among the items were tote bags, T-shirts, bagels and perfume.

Advertisers using images controlled by the authority, like photographs of Grand Central Terminal, have also received letters.
The impetus for all this activity is the authority's licensing program, which has grown to 25 product lines, including neckties, coffee mugs and shower curtains. Proceeds from the program provided the New York Transit Museum with more than $200,000 last year, a sixfold increase from 1999.

The authority now runs two gift shops, at the museum in Brooklyn and at Grand Central, along with an online store. The money pays for educational programs and reduces the subsidies the museum receives from the authority.

Legal experts say it is about time that the authority defended itself, even if it does so in the halting manner of a transportation agency designed to move millions of riders and not a private company equipped to fend off those who want to use its image.

"The M.T.A. is hardly unique in this and may even be a little bit late on the bandwagon," said Jane C. Ginsburg, a law professor at Columbia University who specializes in copyright and trademark issues. "They've got a lot of good will in the subway system, in the maps and in the symbols of the subway lines. It makes perfect sense to capitalize on that."

It makes perfect sense for whom? Why the hell should the MTA own the exclusive rights to putting numbers and letters in colored circles? Is Professor Ginsburg actually praising a public agency for threatening to sue the maker of a Metrocard cookie? Will there be a suit against Le Tigre?

Eh, enough of that. It's easier to bitch about the MTA than process the implications of the press going full-on revisionist in its understanding of the Nixon years and complete rehabilitation of its highest criminals -- read:
and, though it pains me to link to HuffPo (and pains me even more to write that idiotic abbreviation), Harry Shearer
If you haven't read it yet, it's new to you.

Finally: If you really love me, you could get me this for my birthday.

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