Alyssa Milano Claiming Trademark And Copyright On 'Hacktivist'

from the wait-a-second... dept

So, last week at San Diego ComiCon, you may have heard about how actress Alyssa Milano was launching her very own comic book along with Archaia Entertainment, called Hacktivist. As their press release explains:

Inspired by current events from around the world and Milano’s own philanthropic endeavors, Hacktivist is a fast-paced cyber-thriller about friendship and freedom in a time of war. The story follows Ed Hiccox and Nate Graft, the young founders of the world’s most innovative social media company who moonlight secretly as one of the most notorious black-hat hacker teams on the planet. When the U.S. government discovers their operation, they must face the real world beyond the code and choose between loyalty and what they believe to be is right.

Okay. Sure. At SDCC, to promo this, apparently they gave out 500 copies of a limited edition comic previewing some of the content from this upcoming title. The preview content… might not be my cup of tea and feels a bit too much like the hacking dialog in Swordfish (i.e., what Hollywood thinks hacking is) for my taste, but anything that takes the concept of hacktivism more mainstream certainly is a good thing.

For what it’s worth, I’ve heard from a few people that Milano is actually fairly up on these things, and the press release description of the inspiration behind the comic is not bad:

“I’m very involved with in global activism and philanthropy. I like the idea of everyday people doing good,” explained Milano. “My inspiration for Hacktivist is actually Jack Dorsey, the creator of Twitter and Square. I picture him leaving the office at night and going home, where he locks himself in his room and starts hacking to change the world.

Okay, I don’t generally think of Dorsey as a hacktivist so much, but that’s cool. Better than some other folks. Of course, during the SOPA fight, Milano spoke out against SOPA, so it might have been slightly cooler if she’d used someone like Aaron Swartz — for whom the term is actually accurate — as an inspiration, but Dorsey’s definitely more well known.

But then there’s this:

Look closely and you’ll see:

HACKTIVIST™ is © and TM 2013 by Alyssa Milano.

Er… considering just how closely hacktivism is associated with fighting back against the abuse of intellectual property like copyright and trademark to wall off the commons, this seems like a bit of a mistake. I’m sure this wasn’t done to close off the term on purpose — it’s just “what you do” when you’re releasing the comic book. But, you’d think that maybe, just maybe, when putting together a comic book called Hacktivist, you’d be a bit more sensitive to the fact that many hacktivists are fighting situations like this one. Now, to be fair, there doesn’t seem to be any registered trademark application on the word yet — so it could just be that the “trademark” refers to things like the specific logo used (though, then they shouldn’t have needed to put that ™ after the word), and the copyright could refer to the specific content (though, given the subject matter, you’d think at least some sort of Creative Commons license might be more appropriate — but that’s their call). But, even if there’s no ill intent here, just trying to get that trademark seems potentially questionable — and it wouldn’t be entirely surprising to find out down the road, years from now, that someone coming into possession of the trademark claims much more widespread ownership of the term, and that would be a big problem.

So, again, I don’t think there’s anything nefarious going on here, with anyone trying to really stake claim to “ownership” of a very common and widely used word — but just the fact that Milano and Archaia didn’t even seem to think about this or how it would look to actual hacktivists, seems, at the very least, careless. And, at worst, it might actually tick off a bunch of hacktivists, who won’t look kindly at all at any suggestion that a Hollywood actress is suddenly claiming copyright and trademark on “hacktivist.”

Update: Archaia has now published the following response:

“Archaia and Ms. Milano do claim trademark and copyright protection, as appropriate, for the book, the title, the characters, and content included of The Hacktivist. However, no claim is made to other uses of the term ‘hacktivist.’ In accord with Ms. Milano’s wishes, we support the attention to the issues of philanthropy and activism.”

That provides a bit of clarification, though it still seems they could have gone further in the spirit of many hacktivists. Still, I appreciate their willingness to address the issue.

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Comments on “Alyssa Milano Claiming Trademark And Copyright On 'Hacktivist'”

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51 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Can a regular reader actually still be asking this question?

Apple is a trademark (as well it should be). Square is a trademark (as well it should be). Yankees is a trademark. The fact that the term has been around for years literally has no bearing on whether the term can serve as a trademark, nor should it.

Throwing the (c) in there with regard to Hacktivist is a little eyebrow-raising, since it may be seen as claimning copyright in the word, but I suspect they intended to simply claim copyright in the work as whole (which is titled Hacktivist).

halley (profile) says:

Oh come on. Talk about making a controversy over nothing.

> it could just be that the “trademark” refers to things like the specific logo used (though, then they shouldn’t have needed to put that ? after the word), and the copyright could refer to the specific content

That’s all it is. The boilerplate phrasing doesn’t say “The content of the comic called HACKTIVIST has copyright protections for its creator, and the creator will be using the term HACTIVIST for all the marketing related to this particular comic.” So what?

It also doesn’t say “The entire concept implied by the coined portmanteau ‘hacktivist’, a combination of ‘hacker’ and ‘activist’, has been subjugated by a single individual who will deny any and all use of the term in every context in perpetuity.”

Stop reading into things that aren’t there.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The boilerplate phrasing doesn’t say “The content of the comic called HACKTIVIST has copyright protections for its creator, and the creator will be using the term HACTIVIST for all the marketing related to this particular comic.”

Maybe it should, or even better maybe those ‘boilerplate’ entries should not be allowed. Most books have a whole page dedicated to just copyright yet they only slap in a small predefined sentence without even looking to see if it is appropriate to the work. If they spent more time writing those copyrights out by hand it might encourage them to actually think about it rather then leaving that part for the lawyers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Wow that was painful to read. It was like going back in time to the 90’s when popular culture was still unironically using the term “hack the Gibson”. I’m halfway expecting her to jump inside of her PC, fight squares and tesseracts inside of the matrix using a laser sword, and then start talking exclusively in l33t sp34k cuz 1t5 untr4c3ab13.

I’m noticing that she’s already somehow able to incorporate numbers into her speech. I’m sure it’s because the Gibson has been hacktivist-ted. Every Gibson, everywhere.

Anonymous Coward says:

I always thought Alyssa Milano was cool but to claim copyright on such a term as “Hacktivist”, is she stupid? At most, she can only claim copyright on the Hacktivist comic book creation, not the actual term.

If someone claims to be a “Hacktivist”, she cannot claim copyright on that, only to the comic book title and even that’s limited. I’d be interested in seeing how this all plays out.

Votre (profile) says:

Seems the young lady knows as much about trademark and copyright as she does about computer hacking – i.e. as much as you’d get from a Google search and reading a few FAQs.

As others here have already speculated, I too suspect that whoever put the comic book together added boilerplate like so many people do without understanding the ramifications of doing so.

It’s also one thing to claim a trademark or copyright and quite another thing to actually get one registered. The trademark and copyright examiners at the USPTO are a lot harder to satisfy than their counterparts over in the software patent section apparently are.

Anonymous Coward says:

FUD

Complete and utter FUD. How is this different from “Apple?”? Trademarks are dependent on the scope of their use. There is zero indication Milano is “Claiming Trademark And Copyright On ‘Hacktivist'” in a broad sense, which isn’t even possible. The trademark only has effect within the scope of that industry, so someone else can’t also publish a comic called “Hacktivist” and create confusion. Duh.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: FUD

I’m not sure that you understand what FUD actually means. But, that aside…

There is zero indication Milano is “Claiming Trademark And Copyright On ‘Hacktivist'” in a broad sense, which isn’t even possible

You mean except for that block of legalese where this is clearly what’s being claimed. And of course it’s possible to to claim this. You can claim anything at all, no matter how ridiculous. What you mean, perhaps, is that it’s a bullshit claim.

David Good (profile) says:

Its the content

Sorry, I disagree. While the TM reference CAN be referring to the title of the comic book, it’s plain that a title cannot by covered by copyright. So in this context, referring to copyright is plainly referring to the content of the work.

Perhaps it would have been clearer to place the copyright and trademark statements on separate lines.

Andres (profile) says:

Re: @A/C and @David

Actually, titles are commonly protected by trademark. This doesn’t mean that nobody else in the world can use the word, it simply means that the word cannot be used by another title describing a similar thing.

However, very generic names might not be protected if they are “inherently generic”.

BTW, Apple and Windows are trademarked:
http://bit.ly/170m2Tz
http://bit.ly/170m7qg

Andres (profile) says:

Limited trademark

This is standard practice with titles, and it doesn’t mean that the author owns all uses of the word Hacktivist, just the particular use as a comic book title (and possibly to be used in other media, such as TV or film).

Think of any movie with a generic title, such as Unforgiven, The Dictator, The Patriot, The Shining… the authors don’t own all uses of those words, just their use in a specific medium.

chronoss2008 says:

YO STUPID CUNT

A) united hackers association has existed since 1995
B) i have rights on uha , united hackers association and others….

C) hacktivist might bee seen as a direct derivitive of one of my rights….as it entails doing what a hacker does as a protest….correct…

THATS no more then a defacement or DDoS
SO your trying to claim you have the rights to “hacker”
MIT hackers came before us….
the word has 12 sections of defintions.

D) im going to confront you by placing the word HACKTIVIST in giant letters on my site as myself being a hacker for 30 years in protest of your stupid tiny fishbowl brain…

GO figure a nut from charmed trying to get a handle of us….
you in for a world of hack now lady

ALL MILANOS are to be ddos’d and attacked….online..till she recants….

p.s. all those nudy images are about to make a comback

chronoss2008 says:

BTW

putting the united hackers association a real organization into a movie on tv in a negative light when no member in 30+ year shave ever been arrested for a computer crime is slander and defamation of character….

hackers 2 , go watch it now…when he comes into living room if you have a NON edited early edition ….thats what happens….

perhaps i should begin asserting rights i have and slap all of them once good and hard and donate all the cash to every pirate site…

David Good (profile) says:

difference

It’s sort of like the difference between apple and Apple. Apple Computer can claim a trademark over “Apple” if they like (they may not be successful) but the lowercase spelling “apple” refers to the actual fruit and cannot be trademarked.

Thus “Hactivist” in the context of a comic book title can be trademarked. But you can still state “John Smith is a hactivist” with the lowercase h, without infringement.

michael (profile) says:

I would argue that it’s Masnick who seems to be confused about what a “hacker” is, and seems to subscribe more to the Hollywood model than Milano.

Jack Dorsey is absolutely a hacker, and — you could argue — a whitehat hacktivist. Swartz was also a hacker, but also a cracker and hacktivist.

Milano seems to get the difference, but I’m not sure Masnick does.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Jack Dorsey is absolutely a hacker

Never said he wasn’t a hacker. Just that he’s not really a “hacktivist.” I’m unaware of any of his activist efforts.

Swartz was also a hacker, but also a cracker and hacktivist.

I see. You’re trying to make the distinction between hacker and cracker. That’s an old, dead debate and has nothing to do with whether one is a “hacktivist” at all, which is all I was talking about.

ED STRAKER says:

Trademark is correct

Mike Masnick,

Alissa Milano has all the right in the world to protect her content and trademarks under 17 USC ? 106 and under the Lanham Act. She can write as many TM (the symbol for a pending trademark) after the word, any word, that is registered in the USPTO, for determination what logo (i.e.: an image for the word) can be created later.

As for Creative Commons, that is NOT copyright law, just a jumble garbage bag like Bitcoins that attempts to alter law for the masses that don’t want to pay for anything; rather, a way to get a high on education, whether academia or entertainment, from button pushing theft in a few minutes.

You wrote a zealot like article, wanting creative commons instead of law, and know nothing about Trademark law, thinking that if the USPTO doesn’t show their application, having a TM next to a word is inappropriate, when in fact it is filed.

Get a law degree, and then resign from the Internet, you socialist civil war freak.

Thanks.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Trademark is correct

Is it possible for anyone disagreeing with Mike not to go on a ranting personal attack claiming all sorts of random crap about what he “wants” that’s not supported by any reasonable reading of past posts?

Stop acting like children, please, then maybe someone will take note of any actual points you have to offer. You might have some factual insight to offer, but it’s lost in your idiotic obnoxious behaviour.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Trademark is correct

Alissa Milano has all the right in the world to protect her content and trademarks under 17 USC ? 106 and under the Lanham Act.

Nor did I say she did not. I just questioned whether or not it was the most appropriate thing to do, given the subject matter and how it might be viewed.

She can write as many TM (the symbol for a pending trademark) after the word, any word, that is registered in the USPTO, for determination what logo (i.e.: an image for the word) can be created later.

Yes, and in fact, you do not need to register to claim a common law trademark, which can actually be quite effective. But that wasn’t the point I was making. The question was whether she was trademarking the logo or the title — and it wasn’t clear which she was doing. Trademarking the logo is fine. Trademarking the title… is okay but could be borderline.

As for Creative Commons, that is NOT copyright law, just a jumble garbage bag like Bitcoins that attempts to alter law for the masses that don’t want to pay for anything; rather, a way to get a high on education, whether academia or entertainment, from button pushing theft in a few minutes.

Um. For someone who accuses me of not knowing anything, the above paragraph is so ridiculously uninformed (or, more likely directly misinforming) it’s rather incredible. Creative Commons are a form of licenses that use copyright law as a basis. There are some who believe that they are not proper licenses, but the courts have ruled against you. So, no. Creative Commons have never attempted to change the law. And it has nothing to do with whether or not people want to pay — just a recognition of the nature of culture.

You wrote a zealot like article, wanting creative commons instead of law,

I barely mentioned CC, nor do I want it. It was just a suggestion that it might have been more appropriate, given the subject matter.

and know nothing about Trademark law, thinking that if the USPTO doesn’t show their application, having a TM next to a word is inappropriate, when in fact it is filed.

That’s not what I said or meant, and I apologize if you thought I implied that. I’m not sure why you would immediately jump to an insult though.

Do you feel so threatened by someone raising a legitimate question about the choices in publishing this?

Archaia Entertainment says:

Response from Archaia, publisher of 'Hacktivist'

Thank you for raising your concern on this issue. Here is Archaia Entertainment’s official response:

?Archaia and Ms. Milano do claim trademark and copyright protection, as appropriate, for the book, the title, the characters, and content included of THE HACKTIVIST. However, no claim is made to other uses of the term ?hacktivist.? In accord with Ms. Milano?s wishes, we support the attention to the issues of philanthropy and activism.?

If you have further questions, please send them to feedback@archaia.com. Thank you!

uRspqF7L says:

despite Archaia’s faux statement above, regular readers of this site will not be surprised to learn that jackbooted thugs in black helicopters are even now invading suburban homes all over the former US, sifting through the emails of anyone who has used the term “hacktivist” in an unauthorized manner, or for that matter even thought about it. It’s a thin line between this and Mussolini.

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