Friday, July 22, 2005

Freedom of expression dispute

Kimbrew McLeod is has written to Leo Stoller, a man who claims to own the words "stealth," "hoax" and "chutzpah" amongst others and derives a healthy income threatening to sue organisations using these words without his permission. If you scroll down the list of phrases he claims to own, however, you'll come to one, "freedom of expression", for which McLeod was awarded a trademark, in 1998.

McLeod applied for the trademark as prank to test the United States Patent and Trademark Office system - would he be able to get such a trademark in a country where freedom of expression was protected by the constitution. Well it seems he would, could and did. His FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION mark was registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office on January 6, 1998, and it bears the registration number 2,127,381.

Doubleday (Random House) also published a wonderful book by McLeod earlier this year called "FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION: Overzealous Copyright Bozos and Other Enemies of Creativity"

So once Kimbrew McLeod found out Leo Stoller was claiming ownership of his famous trademarked phrase, he wasn't going to pass up on the opportunity to generate some publicity over it. It's worth saying that Stoller is not the only one making a tidy sum from the kind of activity he's engaged in. There's a guy called Ashleigh Brilliant (I kid you not) in California who claims he owns about 7500 aphorisms and makes a living threatening to sue companies (largely publishing and media companies I believe) who unknowingly step on his "property." Publishing houses all too familiar with the costs of defending lawsuits rightly calculate it will usually work out cheaper just to pay royalites or damages. Nice work if you can get it. Ooops. I hope that doesn't belong to Brilliant or Stoller, though George and Ira Gershwin would, of course have a stronger claim (or possibly even Fred Astaire's family, as I think he was the first to record the song).

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