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."
: 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.