UK Woman Denied Passport Because Her Name Might Infringe On Disney's Copyright
from the transmitting-infringing-names-across-borders-for-personal-gain dept
With all the talk of terrorism keeping government officials firmly focused on travel documents (and electronics), it really comes as no surprise that they're on top of any passport anomalies. Like a traveler sporting one more "Skywalker" in their name than the other 99.9999% of the population. [via several TD readers, but first from Jon Jones]
Her namesake may be able to travel across galaxies in Star Wars, but Laura Matthews from Southend – whose middle name is Skywalker – isn't even able to get on a budget airline to the Med.Seeing as copyright and trademark law has nothing to do with security and/or a person's ability to travel, it's a bit odd that the passport office would be so concerned about George Lucas' intellectual property -- a stock farmboy character transplanted to a stock good v. evil storyline set in a futuristic past. After all, as Laura Skywalker points out, no other government agency has expressed a concern about her legally-changed name.
The 29-year-old added the middle name by deed poll in 2008, "for a bit of a laugh", and recently tried to renew her passport, complete with her new name and the signature L. Skywalker. Her application was refused, with the Home Office telling her it "will not recognise a change to a name which is subject to copyright or trademark".
A disgruntled Matthews complained: "It's on my driving licence, my bank cards, everything. Everyone else is happy with that signature apart from passport office."In the spirit of compromise hastened by a disgruntled would-be traveler and a bunch of negative press, the passport office is trying to work out a way to let this Skywalker board aircraft. The fix suggested is the most bureaucratic solution, involving Matthews submitting passport paperwork with her old non-Skywalker signature and being allowed to keep the new one featuring the now-famous "L. Skywalker" scrawl, which will result in duplicated paperwork that doesn't match the current passport and will likely subject Matthews to additional scrutiny from watchful and confused customs officials in the future. Never forget: the government exists mainly to generate paperwork and performing this useless maneuver satisfies that requirement.
Still, it must be asked why customs is so damn adamant that no one violate the sanctity of intellectual property with spur-of-the-moment name changes. Granted, the agency acts as a buffer between nations by vetting travelers (and their counterfeit goods), but its objective should be safety, rather than acting as guardians against the secondary liability caused by the movement of an "infringing" name across borders. Also granted, the most powerful name in intellectual property -- Disney -- now "owns" Skywalker and other associated Star Wars IP. The mere speculation that the corporation would mobilize its army of IP lawyers has been enough to shut down productions clearly covered by fair use.
We're often accused of being some sort of IP-obsessives here at Techdirt when calling out others for their inability to tell their patents from their copyrights, but the true obsessives are those who man the borders and look for potentially-infringing names.