It's been nearly two years since we wrote about the effort by the folks who run the Olympics to have British law changed to provide special copyright
protection for the word "Olympics" and even "2012" (as that's when the Olympics will be held in London). This was hardly the first (nor last) time that the Olympics had gone overboard in trying to protect its brand. Years ago, they started threatening
anyone who used the word, and more recently sought similar legal changes
in Canada for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics (that's gonna cost me...). Over in the UK, playwright and president of the Writer's Guild, David Edgar is talking about how ridiculous all this is
, specifically pointing to the Olympic committee's concern over a new novel called "Olympic Mind Games." Eventually (perhaps realizing the ridicule it would generate), it decided not to sue the author, but based on the law, it probably could have. As Edgar writes:
By declaring images, titles and now words to be ownable brands, these various organisations and individuals are contributing to an increased commodification and thus privatisation of materials previously agreed to be in the public domain. For scientists, this constrains the use of public and published knowledge, up to and including the human genome. For artists, it implies that the only thing you can do with subject matter is to sell it.
Edgar goes on to point to other similarly ridiculous attempts to misuse copyright or trademark law to prevent certain actions. The key problem here (once again) is that too many people now believe that the purpose of intellectual property laws is "protection" of the creator/owner. That's simply not true. The purpose of copyright law is to create the incentives to create the content in question. The purpose of trademark law, is really about consumer protection -- and making sure that someone doesn't buy something under the false impression that it was made and/or endorsed by someone else. Obviously, both of these require some amount of protection to make those things possible -- but in every instance, it should be viewed under the light of the original purpose of both laws. If the control is not related to the original incentive to create, or in preventing consumer confusion -- then the exercises in control should not be allowed under those laws.