Copyrights obviously exist for a reason -- people are simply more motivated to create when they know that they'll get some credit and/or cash for that creation. In the U.S., copyright laws have been in the Constitution since 1787. But since all of human history consists of people thinking of ways to take good ideas and make them terrible, these days copyright laws have been taken to absurd extremes. For instance ...
As tempting as it would be, you can't actually copyright a word like, for instance, "cray-cray" or "vajayjay" and stop people from saying it forever, because that would be ridiculous. You can, however, put a trademark on a word, which stops others from using that word commercially ... even if it's something really common, or really stupid.
Trademarking phrases is nothing new: The most famous case is sports announcer Michael Buffer, who currently makes more money from his phrase "Let's get ready to rumble" than he does from actually announcing boxers and letting them know that there might be rumbling. He's reportedly made $400 million by licensing his phrase to movies, commercials, video games and such.
If he coughs on you, you owe him 50 bucks.
But here's where it gets dumb: Dave Hester from A&E's reality show Storage Wars not only has a trademark on the word "YUUUP!" but is actually involved in a bitter legal battle over it with rapper Trey Songz, who claims that he's been yupping people since at least 2009. According to Hester's court papers, the main difference is that Songz' version "resembles an animal-like or nonhuman squeal which begins with a distinct 'yeeee' sound before finishing with a squeal-like 'uuuup' sound," as opposed to Hester's own "monosyllabic sounding guttural auction bidding phrase." Here's a comparison so you can judge for yourself:
Having carefully analyzed both sounds, we've reached the conclusion that they both sound like dickwads. Also, if Songz decides to agree to Hester's terms, what the hell is he supposed to tell him? "Yeppers"? He could go with "Yeah," but even then he might risk pissing off Olympic athlete Ryan Lochte, who's recently put in a trademark request for the word "Jeah," a random nonsense word Lochte screamed during the events.
He's just hoping that this way no one will notice that he's dyslexic.
Then there's Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell, who has a trademark on the word "lollapalooza" despite the fact that it had existed for about 100 years before his alternative rock festival of the same name started out in the '90s (and about 105 years before it stopped being relevant). Farrell, however, is cool with letting others use the word as long as they're not actually trying to rip him off, because it simply cost him too much money on lawyers to sue everyone who put "-palooza" at the end of every word.
You could say it was a lawsuit-a-thon. Wait, no.
You know that one big football game that happens every year? The one we use as an excuse to sit in front of a TV and stuff our faces with pizza, chicken wings and guacamole? We are, of course, talking about the Super Bowl -- or, as the National Football League would have us call it, "That Football Thing That Must Not Be Named."
"And the Huskies score a touch-thingy!"
You see, the NFL holds a trademark on the phrase "Super Bowl," and each year, their lawyers send out thousands of pre-emptive letters to advertisers, media outlets and even small businesses in the host city reminding them of what can and cannot be said, which are usually followed by at least a further 100 cease-and-desist letters for those who didn't get the message the first time.
Why? Well, as you probably know, companies pay tens of millions of dollars to air their ads during the Super Bowl. The idea is not to devaluate the event by slapping the words "Super Bowl" everywhere, even by people who are ultimately helping to promote the freaking game, like, say, a local bar that wants to advertise that it's offering $0.99 chili dogs on game day. They can have the promotion; they just can't utter the words "Super Bowl" in the process of telling people about it.
Wouldn't want to piss off the Super Bowl. Super Bowl Super Bowl Super Bowl.
So that's how the league wound up slapping small bars and restaurants with fines for advertising Super Bowl parties or specials -- pay close attention when February rolls around and you'll notice that even your local pizzerias, wing joints and guacamole troughs aren't using the two magic words to advertise. Likewise, if a radio station wants to give out Super Bowl tickets, unless they're officially affiliated with the NFL, they can't even say the words on the air during the promotion, which is how you end up accidentally winning tickets to the Puppy Bowl instead.
Even the nicknames of the teams involved and phrases like "Super Sunday" (half of which, you may notice, is a fucking day of the week) are off-limits if the NFL deems that they might suggest the appearance of a commercial relationship. "The Big Game" is the only pseudo-official name we have left, at least until the NFL tries to trademark that too ...
They've also trademarked "potato chips," "cocktail wieners" and "Buffalo chicken dip."
Oh, wait, they already did. The only reason they didn't get away with it was because the historic college football rivalry between Stanford and Cal is commonly known as the Big Game, and the NFL's proposed trademark would have stopped even them from using the phrase. If it were up to the NFL, they'd probably trademark the words "the," "big," "game" and "football" while they're at it.
We've all had that moment where we're looking at an infomercial on TV and we think, "A blender that's also a hat? I thought of that first! I should have gotten a patent." It takes a special kind of person to proclaim the same thing while visiting a zoo, though.
It turns out that a fair few people have not only taken natural selection to court, but also walked out with a patent for a living organism.
In the case of the ayahuasca vine, a medicinal plant native to the Amazon rain forest, an American corporation patented it on the grounds that they'd managed to reproduce it asexually, so now there's a patent that lists some guy as a plant's "inventor." Meanwhile, the indigenous peoples who had known of its healing properties for centuries had to stand by and watch while others made millions off a plant that they considered sacred. If you don't think that's offensive, imagine if someone had patented the sacramental bread if you're Christian, or Steve Jobs' sweater if you're a Mac user.
It belongs to the world now.
But it's not just plants that are subject to patent law. In 1988, Harvard College was granted a patent for a type of mouse it created through transgenic modification, which is a fancy scientific way of saying they did an X-Men on it. However, rather than eye lasers or tiny rodent claws, this mouse's superpower was getting cancer.
Super intelligence was never part of the deal.
Harvard has an exclusive deal with E.I. DuPont to license the horrifically named OncoMouse, as if it were Selena Gomez or something. DuPont, in turn, reportedly charges hundreds of thousands of dollars to other companies who want to test cancer drugs on it, heavily restricts the work of university researchers and makes sure they don't try to develop their own knockoff OncoMice.
University researchers say that DuPont is getting way too aggressive, going after scientists whose work has nothing to do with the OncoMouse patent. Imagine what would happen if companies figured out how to patent people. Actually, you don't have to imagine, because ...