Does Google Need Permission From Philip K. Dick's Estate For The Nexus One?

from the seems-a-bit-ridiculous dept

There's been plenty of buzz over the past few days about Google's alleged plans to offer a phone of its own design (built by HTC, potentially sold both directly and by T-Mobile, if not others), which has been dubbed the "Nexus One." I didn't write anything about it, because there didn't seem much to write about at this point. I'm always happy to see more competition in the market, though, and if the phone is really good, that's obviously a good thing. But one thing did catch my eye. The NY Times is noting that the name "Nexus One" appears to be a play on how Philip K. Dick named the replicants in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which was subsequently turned into the still popular movie Blade Runner. In both stories, the replicants are "Nexus-6" devices, being the sixth generation of that type of robots. It's a fun little homage by Google and an obvious play on the fact that its operating system is called Android.

And yet... the estate of Philip K. Dick is not pleased. The article notes (surprisingly) that Motorola paid George Lucas for the rights to use "Droid" for its Android phone, but no one spoke to the Dick estate, who now claim they are "shocked and dismayed." Really? Shocked? Isa Dick Hackett, Philip's daughter is claiming:
"We were never consulted, no requests were made, and we didn't grant any sort of permissions."
Perhaps that's because Google doesn't need permission from you to do such a thing. Of course, since Google hasn't made any official announcement on this, there's still a good chance they could change the name, just to avoid having to deal with an angry and misguided family member who doesn't like the idea of anyone paying tribute to her father without first paying up. You have to imagine there must be some other science fiction author out there who would be thrilled to have Google promoting his or her work, rather than whining about getting permission (i.e., "payment") for the use of a name.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2009 @ 8:27am

    Did Paramount Pictures pay the estate for using the word "Nexus" in ST:Generations? No? I want a 10% finder's fee for that lawsuit!!!

     

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  2.  
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    Steve M, Dec 16th, 2009 @ 8:30am

    The note about Motorola paying to use the "Droid" moniker is because "Droid" is a registered trademark for George Lucas. When I was looking at the Droid I noticed the disclaimer that Droid was being used under license from Lucas and looked into it.

    So unless the Dick Estate has some trademark claim to the Nexus-X names, which I sincerely doubt, they shouldn't have any leg to stand on in claiming they need to be asked permission.

     

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  3.  
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    Designerfx (profile), Dec 16th, 2009 @ 8:35am

    WOW

    the estate might want to learn about the value of promotion by, you know, supporting google naming it the nexus one. Here's an idea: how about give a free copy (epub or something) of "do androids dream of electric sheep" to every person who buys a nexus one, thus creating new sales and making these apparently idiotic estate owners richer as some people might buy the book or buy another book by Philip Dick as a result.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2009 @ 8:51am

    I think it's Nexus plus the additional Android reference that is clearly aimed at Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? -- it's not just the use of a random word.

    And if it is Dick's estate, it's up to them to decide whether or not they want that "free promotion." It sounds like they are saying, "Don't do me any 'favors,' pal." It's not like folks are going to go dash out and buy Dick's writings based on a phone joke.

     

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  5.  
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    Call me Al, Dec 16th, 2009 @ 8:54am

    Well I am both shocked and dismayed by the attitude of the daughter, her sense of entitlement on this is ridiculous and she if she is angling for a payout (as seems likely) then its disgusting.

    Most people wouldn't pick up on this reference and those who do will smile and enjoy it. It is very unlikely that Google would make any additional money as a result of this name.

    In short I wish people would take such an homage in the spirit that it is intended and not assume that someone is simply trying to get something for nothing.

     

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  6.  
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    Orly, Dec 16th, 2009 @ 9:04am

    Re:

    Bit presumptuous on the part of the Dick Estate to just assume that Google's ripping them off. They could just be using the WORD 'nexus' for it's actual meaning: connection, link, or tie. Makes perfect sense that way.

     

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  7.  
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    Paul (profile), Dec 16th, 2009 @ 9:12am

    To be fair....

    To those slamming the attitude of entitlement on the part of the Philip K. Dick (PKD) Estate.... I don't like the law, but under the law as it is likely to be interpreted, they have a case. In as far as public opinion goes (the PKD Estate is the little guy and Google is big and rich), the PKD Estate has the advantage.

    Don't be surprised if Google rolls over and licenses the term, or uses a different name for the phone when it ships.

    What needs to change is the law on copyright, trademarks, and fair use. But as long as we are in the current legal muddle, an organization that makes its money off royalties and license fees is going to do its job when the opportunities present themselves. Otherwise, they are not doing their job. The PKD Estate is doing its job, even if many of us would like that job to go the way of the Dodo.

    I doubt anything will be done during Obama's term on IP reform. And if he gets re-elected, not for another four years past that. Not if the Bidden/Hollywood meetings of all the "effected shareholders" are any indication.

     

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  8.  
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    lavi d (profile), Dec 16th, 2009 @ 9:25am

    Botaday

    Take your pick of robot names...

    http://www.botaday.com

     

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  9.  
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    ed, Dec 16th, 2009 @ 9:36am

    Who is running this madhouse

    Has google announced the name is Nexus? People are jumping to that conclusion based on the user agent string. As far as I know, the device has no name.

    Also, I have no idea why Motorola licensed Droid from Lucas. I don't think he invented the term. I actually think that was a publicity stunt, which seemed to work

     

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  10.  
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    Tyanna, Dec 16th, 2009 @ 9:45am

    Or perhaps everyone is reading far too much into this and the people who named it didn't actually base it off the Nexus-6 reference.

    Perhaps they were going by the actual definition of the word: a means of connection between members of a group or things in a series; link; bond (via thefreedictionary.com).

     

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  11.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Dec 16th, 2009 @ 9:59am

    I don't see this phone hitting the market with that name, lawsuit or no lawsuit. It's not as if the replicants in Electric Sheep were the good guys - in fact, they were used to repeatedly demonstrate the cold, uncaring nature of a machine's decision-making process. It might be a great joke for a lot of nerds - the rumour-trackers, the evangelists, the early-adopters - but for mass-market it seems like it would be an odd choice. I mean sure, most people won't get the reference at first, but eventually someone is going to point out that they named their phone after the techno-baddies in a novel focusing on the dangers of technology.

     

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  12.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Dec 16th, 2009 @ 10:57am

    Re:

    Dick did not invent the words "Android" or "Nexus" or even "Dick."

     

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  13.  
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    DMNTD, Dec 16th, 2009 @ 11:02am

    Re: Re:

    Exactly.

     

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  14.  
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    John Doe, Dec 16th, 2009 @ 11:24am

    Re:

    Yes, and the 1 could be a play on "Next 1" as in the next big phone. Hopefully google doesn't have to pay out but they seem to be rolling over alot lately. A move that may cost them more in the end than fighting it now.

     

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  15.  
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    SteelWolf (profile), Dec 16th, 2009 @ 11:55am

    Re: Re:

    His family sure knows how to illustrate that last one though.

     

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  16.  
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    The Infamous Joe (profile), Dec 16th, 2009 @ 12:03pm

    Odd.

    Funny, I assumed they used "Nexus" because the phone would be a link between you and whatever you wanted to be linked with.

    You know, the definition of Nexus.

    I can feel for Isa, though. I'm sure she was just minding her own business one idle Tuesday morning, drinking coffee, when her cell rings. She looks down at the caller ID and sees that it's her lawyer. As the lawyer relates that Google has the audacity to brand their phone 'Nexus', a look of horror slowly forms on Isa's face. "Has the world gone mad?" she says to no one in particular, not even noticing the mug of coffee she dropped shattering on the floor. "They might as well have shit on father's grave," she thinks to herself while suppressing the urge to throw up, already tasting bile, "Someone has to put a stop to this!"

    Okay. Maybe not. I don't think anyone was "shocked and dismayed" upon hearing the news. In fact, hearing the news probably coincided with a "Cha-ching" noise and her eyes transforming into dollar signs. Completely ridiculous, all of it.

     

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  17.  
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    Derek Bredensteiner (profile), Dec 16th, 2009 @ 12:15pm

    Re: To be fair....

    It's disingenuous to say the "real" problem is the law, or the "real" problem is the people abusing/misusing it. Both are problems, and to say one isn't a problem because the other is the real one is counter productive.

    Even if there's a case here, which is questionable, that doesn't mean this isn't also an abuse or misuse.

     

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  18.  
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    Rev AKL, Dec 16th, 2009 @ 12:22pm

    Copyright breach?

    Both terms:'nexus'(origin; 17th century from the Latin 'nectere' to bind), and 'android'(origin; 18th century from the Latin Greek 'androeides' manlike),are noted in the dictionary. Ref: Collins Concise Dictionary Fifth Edition 2001. Therefore isn't it impossible to claim copyright breach as both terms were in use before Philip K. Dick was ever born?

     

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  19.  
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    The Infamous Joe (profile), Dec 16th, 2009 @ 12:33pm

    Re: Copyright breach?

    Trademark != copyright

     

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  20.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Dec 16th, 2009 @ 12:34pm

    Re: Copyright breach?

    You are right about copyright (although it doesn't always play out as cleanly and clearly as all that) - but this is about trademark. Trademarks only apply to a word when used in trade (to sell a product or service), so you can indeed trademark a dictionary word, or anything else that is already in use, as long as it isn't a natural, generic description of the product/service (like "Shell" Oil or "Coca" Cola)

    Of course, this also means that someone else needs to be using the mark in the same way for it to be considered trademark infringement. You could probably start "Shell Beverages" or "Coca Gas", but not "Shell Gas" or "Coca Beverages" - of course, those lines (which I'm simplifying a fair bit here) are not always so clearly drawn, which is why there is a potential dispute in this case.

     

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  21.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Dec 16th, 2009 @ 12:37pm

    Re: Re: Copyright breach?

    Okay in re-thinking my first example, I realize there is a big error. Obviously "Coca" IS a natural description of the product in that case. But that is a great example of why trademark is often more about corporate muscle than anything else.

    "Shell" oil was a better example - you can trademark "Shell Oil", because shell is an arbitrary name, but if you had a company that made seashells, you couldn't trademark calling them "Shells".

     

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  22.  
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    Mikes, Dec 16th, 2009 @ 12:39pm

    What?

    Is her name Is a Dick Hackett? Really?

     

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  23.  
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    DocMenach (profile), Dec 16th, 2009 @ 12:41pm

    Re: To be fair....

    To those slamming the attitude of entitlement on the part of the Philip K. Dick (PKD) Estate.... I don't like the law, but under the law as it is likely to be interpreted, they have a case. In as far as public opinion goes (the PKD Estate is the little guy and Google is big and rich), the PKD Estate has the advantage

    No, they actually don't have a case at all unless they have actually registered "Nexus" as a trademark of the PKD Estate (as Lucas did with the term "Droid). Without that registration there is absolutely no case here. My prediction is that either Google will go ahead and use the name without paying and any lawsuit will not make it far, or they will change the name.

     

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  24.  
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    Sambo, Dec 16th, 2009 @ 12:45pm

    Don't these people even bother to check a dictionary?

    I think people here are looking to hard and missing the obvious.

    Meaning of the word 'nexus' according to freedictionaryonline.com
    nex·us (nkss)
    n. pl. nexus or nex·us·es
    1. A means of connection
    2. A connected series or group.
    3. The core or center

    So google are making a phone and calling it after word that means 'a means of connection' or a 'connected series or group'. Isn't that exactly what a mobile phne is? Really struggling to see how this has got anything to do with Philip K Dick's descendants

    These pretzels are making me thirsty...... (cue lawsuit from the makers of Seinfeld for quoting them without permission.....

     

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  25.  
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    Valkor, Dec 16th, 2009 @ 1:06pm

    Re: Who is running this madhouse

    Obviously, Google is planning to make small robot toys and movies about robots. They're just trying to avoid confusion with Lucas's fictional robots. The fact that they're making software and consumer electronics is beside the point, as is the fact that the operating system is named Android.

    I also don't think I could *make up* the name Is a Dick Hack-ett with a straight face. Poor gal.

     

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  26.  
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    Paul (profile), Dec 16th, 2009 @ 3:32pm

    Re: Re: To be fair....

    How is it a problem to push your license fees and royalties to the maximum extent possible, if that is what your company does for money?

    As far has the chance that Google might lose if this went to trial, I couldn't say. It isn't my field. But given that copyright extends to the concepts and world construction (i.e. I can't write a story that simply uses the characters from "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"), I think the PKD Estate may have a case. Google is building up a theme here that might be viewed as intentional, using the terms "Android" and "Nexus". It isn't a story, but it might be argued the naming is derivative of PKD's story.

    And I may have overstated myself by saying the real problem is our currently muddled law on the matter. Still, if the boundaries of derivative works were clearly defined, and fair use was clearly defined, then at least the outcome of these situations would be more predictable.

     

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  27.  
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    Derek Bredensteiner (profile), Dec 16th, 2009 @ 5:23pm

    Re: Re: Re: To be fair....

    "How is it a problem to push your license fees and royalties to the maximum extent possible, if that is what your company does for money?"

    I would counter with "How is it a problem to rape and pillage poor farmers if your company is an army that's authorized to do so?". Now of course that's quite absurd, and an unfair comparison by any measure, but the point I mean to make is just because something is legal doesn't mean it's a good idea, even if you've signed up with a company that does that.

    When did personal responsibility get thrown out the door? Just because it's legal, or because someone else might do it if you don't, doesn't mean you should or it's "a good thing".

    There's business reasons not too, and I would argue there are moral reasons not too.

     

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  28.  
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    Vincent Clement, Dec 16th, 2009 @ 5:50pm

    Re:

    Is it a registered trademark for a cellphone? Motorola paid the license because it was cheaper then having to deal with a lawsuit.

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2009 @ 5:55pm

    Re: Re: Re: Copyright breach?

    Coca, as in Cocaine, which is NOT in use in the product (any longer). Try looking at the SyFy channel and their attempts to get SciFi trademarked.

     

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  30.  
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    Rev AKL, Dec 16th, 2009 @ 6:05pm

    Re: Re: Re: Copyright breach?

    What I was actually trying to point out is that as the terms first came into use in the 17th century (as applicable to 'nexus') and the 18th century (as applicable to 'android')- Prior to Philip K. Dick's temporal, physical incarnation in this dimension.He therefore can not be claimed to be the originator of either term, (unless you are capable of proving he originally coined the terms in a previous incarnation,) and could not therefore claim copyright on either term. Neither can his estate as neither term has been registered as a trademark by his estate. It means that legally as far as my understanding of the law goes, they have no legal claim regarding the use of the terminology by themselves or others. Therefore use of both words is fair game at the present moment by anyone in regards to a phone. Copyright infr4ingement would come into play if someone branded an actual android construction as a 'nexus' make or model.

     

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  31.  
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    Rev AKL, Dec 16th, 2009 @ 8:07pm

    Mind You! It could very well be!

    Google's Android software and smartphone memory, information processing and organisational abilities, perhaps exceed human abilities. Although humans have initially emplaced the information the 'Nexus one' will organise and present it in relay to its own information input, even that information gained from its camera lens. The information gathered by the smartphone will be able to influence the mental processes of the humans that utilise it. Is this the borderline of automatically organised information becoming artificial intelligence? Capable of changing the very decisions and actions of the people who use it, they in turn becoming the constructs relating to an artificially generated reality. Does this make the nexus one manlike(android) and if so isn't the connection to the allocation of a numeral to the term nexus breaking the copyright of Philip K. Dick's original idea of a series of developing artificial constructs?

     

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  32.  
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    Mr Dead, Dec 16th, 2009 @ 8:11pm

    Google are already in a copyright/trademark dispute over 'Android' with a guy named Specht, and you will find other disputes were they have fallen foul of prior usage. If your motto is "Don't Be Evil", you should at least ask as a courtesy, especially when you have made the same mistake before. But what do you expect from Yanks? They all think they have the god given right to park their tanks on someone else's lawn and can't get their heads round the idea that what isn't right for other people should apply to them as well.

     

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  33.  
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    Mr Dead, Dec 16th, 2009 @ 8:12pm

    Google are already in a copyright/trademark dispute over 'Android' with a guy named Specht, and you will find other disputes were they have fallen foul of prior usage. If your motto is "Don't Be Evil", you should at least ask as a courtesy, especially when you have made the same mistake before. But what do you expect from Yanks? They all think they have the god given right to park their tanks on someone else's lawn and can't get their heads round the idea that what isn't right for other people should apply to them as well.

     

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  34.  
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    Rev AKL, Dec 16th, 2009 @ 8:27pm

    Re: Isa Dick Hackett

    Also why put Isa his daughter is 'whining' about it? If you read the original NY Times article she could be seen to be quite nice and reasonable considering . Is this in actual fact to prejudice the entire article in favour of Google? Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year to both sides. Do no Evil!

     

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  35.  
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    Mr Dead, Dec 16th, 2009 @ 8:32pm

    Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year to both sides

    Bah Humbug!

     

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  36.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Dec 16th, 2009 @ 10:25pm

    Re: To be fair....

    "I don't like the law, but under the law as it is likely to be interpreted, they have a case."

    Assuming that you're right -- so?

    Just because something is legal doesn't mean it is moral, just, or right. Legality and morality have very little to do with each other.

     

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