lengthen copyrights worldwide

Trademark power grab

Big companies, their lobbyists, and their lawyers have already used political muscle to lengthen copyrights worldwide and extend the concept of patents to absurd length. The next area that they are eyeing is that of trademarks.

At this very moment, there is a bill going through the US congress which would radically redefine the property rights of trademark holders, explicitly by emasculating of the principle of “fair use”. Trademarks exist, quite properly, to protect companies and the public from fraudulent product names and images, so that I can't start up a company that sells, for example, “Coke Plus” or “New Mars Bars”. This also has interpreted as disallowing “near enough” names, such as a “MacDonald's” or “Chanelle No. 5”.

The “fair use” doctrine allows journalists, artists, or filmmaker to use a trademark or trademarked item in either educational, artistic, or non-commercial purposes, such as a research report or a work of art, even if it is used critically or ridiculed. The new legislation, as it is currently drafted (with undoubted “help” from lobbyists for big business) would severely limit that doctrine.

According to a report in The New Standard (“Trademark Act May Threaten Fair Use”,2/6/06)

Under the law up for consideration in the Senate, trademark holders would be permitted to seek injunctions against use of their marks if they can prove the representation is “likely to cause dilution by blurring or tarnishment, regardless of the presence or absence of actual or likely confusion, competition, or actual economic injury,” according to a summary of the bill by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. The House passed the bill last April.

The fight in the Senate is crucial, and it has mostly gone under the radar. A group ranging from associations of librarians, photographers, and children's book authors is protesting the proposed law, seeing it as way in big corporations could quash any criticism by threatening massive lawsuits on individuals who dare to criticize or mock them.

The tendency of oligopolies is to control the use of their products, their ideas, and finally their own images. Excessive protection of intellectual property threatens the power of the individual or the small business to resist the tyranny of the big enterprises. [Oligopoly Watch]

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