Flat Stanley Learns How Ownership Of Infinite Goods Hurts Everyone
from the sounds-like-a-good-children's-book dept
Here are the details:
- Jeff Brown, an author, wrote a series of childrens' books about a character named Stanley Lambchop in the 1960s.
- In 1964, one of the books in the series, called Flat Stanley involves Stanley being "flattened," and living the life of someone as flat as a sheet of paper.
- In 1995, Dale Hubert, a 3rd grade teacher, found a copy of the book Flat Stanley which was "obscure and nearly out of print."
- Inspired by a single page in the book where Stanley mails himself to a friend's place in California, Hubert begins having his students create and decorate their own Flat Stanley cutouts, and send them to friends or relatives who live far away, asking the recipients to take photos with the cutout, and "send him back with a letter describing Stanley's adventures."
- Hubert sets up a website tracking the results, which starts to bring in tons of attention (along with Stanley showing up with famous people and in famous places).
- Brown, the author, is thrilled about this, and visits with Hubert and his family.
- In 2002, Brown writes another book: Stanley Flat Again
- In 2003, Brown dies.
- Somewhere around 2006 Brown's estate sells the rights to Flat Stanley to a group that makes a musical around the now popular character. The estate also sells the rights to Universal to make a Flat Stanley movie.
- In 2006 Hubert -- the teacher, not the author -- (on the advice of his lawyer) files for a trademark on Flat Stanley
- Which brings us to today, where Brown's estate is protesting the trademark application and wants to take control of the FlatStanley.com website to sell merchandise associated with the musical/movie (though they have no problem with Hubert continuing the project using the FlatStanleyProject.com domain name)
Because of this false belief in "ownership" a problem is created where there was none before. Hubert and Brown had no problems when both were merely using the character. In fact, it helped both of them greatly. But as soon as Hubert exerted ownership rights, then Brown's estate had every right to call foul. Of course, Brown's family is also guilty of exerting ownership rights, when much of the value of that ownership was created by Hubert. So the problem here isn't Brown's estate being a big bad bully -- but that both sides have bought into the ridiculous idea that one can "own" a character like this. Everything was working just fine, and everyone was benefiting when there was no ownership issue.
That's what's nice about an infinite good -- everyone can use it, and there's no loss to anyone. Once you exert ownership rights, you add in artificial scarcity, and suddenly suddenly one person's gain is another's loss. And, as a result, we're all worse off.