Last night, I noticed a response to my post (which said “I don’t think that I’ve ever seen so many trademarks violated on a single page before”) in my TrackBacks. It is a response by Timothy Sandefur saying (minus the links):
Diane [sic!] Hsieh accuses this website of violating intellectual property by selling items with made-up logos for, say, Taggart Transcontinental and whatnot. I was not aware that Ayn Rand had designed such logos…
But see, the implication is that Rand and her heirs own (in a moral sense, no less) anything whatsoever that uses that phrase because it invokes her creation. And if that is the case, then I am violating intellectual property by having used the phrase “Taggart Transcontinental” in the above paragraph. (Oops! I did it again!) This is the sort of silliness that the natural-right-to-copyright argument leads to. The ownership of genres, the eradication of fair use, and the ultimate stifling of perfectly legitimate uses of liberty–which is to say, the initiation of force against those who have done nothing wrong. Unfortunate, to say the least.
While I do think that the Estate of Ayn Rand has legitimate intellectual property claims over the characters of Ayn Rand’s novels and the like, I haven’t thought at all about the form and limits of that kind of intellectual property. (I do regard this protest as quite absurd, as there is no right to “create anything for ‘sale’ from the fabulous imagination of Ayn Rand.”)
However, my point in my earlier post concerned the abuse of the trademarks of the companies whose logos were adapted.
So last night, I wrote Timothy the following letter:
You totally misunderstood my point in your entry on “More Intellectual Property Silliness from Objectivists.” The violation of intellectual property concerned the trademarks of Coca-Cola, Pittsburgh Steelers, and so on — not the estate of Ayn Rand. The logos in question were not “made up” — but adapted from existing sources.
If you wish to argue against intellectual property rights, that’s your own business. But there’s no need to misrepresent me in the process.
Since the comments are closed, feel free to quote the above in the correction that I hope you’ll post on that entry.
My plan was to wait and see whether Timothy would post a correction to his post before commenting on it on NoodleFood. (I didn’t want to make a fuss if he was willing to issue a correction.) However, since the Benjo Blog seems to accept Timothy’s interpretation of my post in the course of objecting to Timothy’s criticisms, I thought I should clarify my original intentions. Just from a quick consideration of the matter, I think that I entirely agree with Benjo’s argument about the Estate’s property rights on this point. He writes:
The question here is not who designed (or manufactured) the logos, but who created the value of these physical objects (and thus, who is entitled by right to the profits). The answer to this is clearly Ayn Rand. The images and phrases make obvious reference to Atlas Shrugged, and count on such a connection to promote their sale. The majority of people who would purchase such items are not interested in them qua physical object, but rather qua Atlas Shrugged paraphernalia. The individual(s) manufacturing them are cashing in on the creation of Ayn Rand; if she had never published Atlas Shrugged, they might be found for sale at Dollar Tree. Any value they would have above that is the result not of their manufacturer, but of Ayn Rand.
I further disagree with Sandefur when he states that Ayn Rand (or her heirs) own anything which mentions Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand’s IP rights do not protect the mere mention of Atlas Shrugged nor any particular phrase contained therein; she could not sue Sandefur or myself for simply writing the words “Atlas Shrugged” or “Taggart Transcontinental” on our blogs. Rather, her IP rights protect any infringement of the commercial value of the story of Atlas Shrugged.
My only point here is that the above wasn’t the point of my original blog post.