Besides, Katy Perry has plenty of lawyers already.
The worst thing about society is that it expects you to, y'know, contribute. You want money? Create something valuable, loser. It's the worst. As we've previously pointed out, though, there is an easier way: Find something you didn't do and try to take credit for it. It ain't pretty, but it's a living.
If you're a recording artist, YouTube can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it's a powerful tool for getting your music in front of potential fans. On the other, it's a good excuse for people to use your music without giving you credit. There's no worse feeling in the world than hearing that hit single you poured your soul into being used as the soundtrack for some Canadian kid's nut shot compilation video -- especially if you're not seeing a cent for it.
It's that reality that gives us companies like Rumblefish, which you've probably never heard of, so allow us tell you what they do: We're not sure. According to their website, they "find the music, handle all of the licensing, provide the technology to make it easy to find great music, and make sure that the artists get paid" -- which, as far as we can tell, is corporate-speak for "We click on random YouTube videos, claim to own the music, and then hope somebody will be dumb enough to give us money."
Rumblefish recently made headlines for claiming the music rights to a video that was nothing more than a microchip, an American flag, and the song "America The Beautiful." And, while we have to admit that nothing says "American patriotism" quite like claiming to own stuff you obviously don't, it's pretty hard to deny that "America The Beautiful" was written back in the early 20th century and has been in the public domain for decades. And if you're thinking that maybe the recording had been copyrighted, no dice: The performance was by the U.S. Navy Band, and therefore legally uncopyrightable.
We'd be willing to chalk this one up to a big misunderstanding (who among us has never mistaken the U.S. Navy Band for Ray Charles?), except for the fact that, a few years earlier, Rumblefish tried to claim the music rights to a video whose only soundtrack was live-recorded bird noises. So, unless Rumblefish is genetically engineering their own massive army of birds in hopes of pop-chart domination, we're gonna call bullshit. (The company CEO later said it was a series of mistakes that led to the false claim.)
20th Century Fox
Quick, what's a "droid"? Odds are, about half of you said, "An expensive Flappy Bird machine," and the other half said, "Some sort of ... robot? I think?" Probably only a tiny minority correctly identified the word as referring exclusively to the robots in the Star Wars universe. That's right: If you've ever called a robot a "droid," you owe George Lucas a dollar.
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George Lucas technically coined the word "droid" for the original Star Wars way back in 1977. This was probably a small accomplishment for a man who also got the world to embrace ridiculous letter salads like "Yoda," "Kashyyyk," and "Luke," especially since all he did was drop the first two letters from "android" -- a word that's been with us since at least the 18th century. And yet, more than 30 years later, in 2008, Lucas looked around and said, "Hey, remember back when I made up the word 'droid'? I really didn't get paid enough for that." And then he trademarked it.
This was less-than-great news for the people at Verizon, who at the time were planning on marketing a phone called a Droid, but then Verizon realized they were rich and just gave George Lucas a big bag of money. Less lucky was Matt Cooper, who in 2010 was looking to market some Web software he called "Addroid" and was promptly served with a cease-and-desist letter. He pointed out that all he had done was change a single letter in the really, really old word "android," but Lucas was less than impressed. He did eventually let him use the name, but only after making him extra-super-pinkie-swear to never make a video game, a movie, or a terrible holiday special.
There's nothing more American than working the land with your hands, right? Just you, the good Earth, and that shiny, green John Deere tractor that apparently inspires lust in female country music fans. You better hope said tractor doesn't break, though, because if it does, it's illegal for you to fix it -- and if you try, John Deere will sue your ass back to the hunter-gatherer age. Yes, even if you paid cash.
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How does that work? It all goes back to a law Congress passed in 1998 called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which states that, when you buy computer software, you're not actually "buying" it per se -- you're purchasing a license to use that software however the seller wants you to use it. This made sense back in the '90s, when computer software was mostly flying-toaster-themed screensavers that came on easily copied CD-ROMs. It makes a bit less sense now, when even those 97 cans of Easy Cheese in your pantry have onboard computers with embedded software.
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And if one of those cans or, for that matter, your tractor, breaks, God help you if you try to fix it. Since the software is embedded in the hardware, even just popping open the hood means you're mucking around in software you don't technically own. What's the advantage here? Well, not much, if you're a farmer. If you're John Deere, though, it means farmers are legally obligated to pay you every time their tractor breaks.
This is a huge problem for farmers, who tend to be accustomed to fixing their own equipment -- seeing as they generally live out in the middle of nowhere, where John Deere-licensed repair shops are few and far between. As Wired reports, farmers have been forced to fly John Deere's corporate repairmen out to their neck of the woods, often repeatedly. It's an expensive thing to have to pay for when you're making the wages of, y'know, a farmer. The other option is to buy a used tractor from the pre-digital days so you can just fix the damn thing and get back to work -- which is what a lot of farmers are choosing to do.
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If you're a screenwriter, even if you're just writing a TV commercial, one of the hardest parts of your job can be coming up with names for your characters. They have to be memorable but not distracting, and they have to tiptoe around the sensibilities of litigious celebrities.
If that last one seems oddly specific, it's probably because you're not whoever wrote E-Trade's 2010 Super Bowl ad. For those who are unfamiliar: E-Trade is an online stock broker that's been running ads starring market-savvy talking babies since 2007, and 2010's featured a throwaway gag about a "milkaholic" baby named Lindsay.
Thank goodness they refrained from giving that baby a milk mustache.
Sure, it wasn't the funniest ad in the world, but not every commercial can be a Sarah McLachlan animal-abuse ad. But it got the job of filling in the gaps between football plays done. Unfortunately for E-Trade, though, part-time actress and full-time burnout Lindsay Lohan was apparently watching that night and, in a moment of lucidity, said to herself, "Hey, that baby's name is Lindsay and she's addicted to stuff! My name is Lindsay and I'm addicted to stuff!" Then she filed suit for $100 million.
That might seem excessive, but, according to her lawyer, she was pretty much the only Lindsay in existence and deserved exclusive rights to the name. Their official statement claimed that she had the same single-name recognition as Madonna or Oprah, ignoring the reality that, while "Lindsay" has consistently ranked among the top 1,000 baby names since the '70s, far fewer parents have deliberately named their daughters "Madonna" or "Oprah."
We'll never know how this one turned out, though, since the two parties settled out of court, with the standard nondisclosure agreement. Just to be safe, though, we're never, ever going to name the characters in the things we write, ever again.
It seems like a lot of people are confused about the difference between a copyright and a trademark, so let us fill you in: A copyright gives you the exclusive rights to a creative work, like a book or a film; a trademark gives you exclusive rights to a name or a symbol. So, if you wanted to keep pirates from selling copies of your Ray Romano/Walter Cronkite slashfic, you would copyright it, but if you wanted exclusive rights to sell T-shirts featuring the title (And That's The Ray It Jizz), you would trademark it.
Things start to get complicated, though, if you're a movie studio known for making fairly creative films but then giving them really generic titles like Toy Story, Cars, and Up -- especially if your main revenue source is branded merchandise. We're talking, of course, about Disney-Pixar, who are currently working on a film about Dia de los Muertos, a film that until recently had the clever title Dia De Los Muertos.
They've since settled on the title Coco, but not before attempting to trademark the phrase "Dia de los Muertos" for use on toys, clothing, footwear, clocks, backpacks, fruit snacks, and half a dozen other things. Here's the problem: Turns out, Dia de los Muertos is already a thing -- and not just, like, "already a thing Disney owns" but, like, "already a Mexican holiday that was celebrated before Columbus ever even landed and therefore predates even the concept of a trademark." Also, pretty much everyone is already selling Dia de los Muertos shirts. So.
Disney withdrew the trademark application after pretty much the entire country of Mexico burst onto social media to point out that trying to trademark their culture was kind of a huge dick move -- so, crisis averted, we guess. What really bothers us, though, is that Disney apparently successfully trademarked the word "Cars." Does that mean every time we talk about cars, we owe Disney a dollar?
Nah, y'know what? We'll gladly pay it, as long as it means we don't have to watch the movie again.
A bit of computer history, for anyone who doesn't know: While no one is quite sure who coined it, the word "pixel" dates back to at least the 1960s, as a contraction of the phrase "picture element." All it means is the tiny square dots that make up a picture on your computer or TV screen. You're looking at thousands of pixels right now.
It was also the title of an Adam Sandler movie released earlier this year by Columbia Pictures -- an appropriate title, given that Pixels technically had all the elements of a motion picture and not much else. And, evidently, Columbia was so proud of their idea to combine cutting-edge special effects with outdated Adam Sandler antics that they decided to go after every video on Vimeo that tried to use the word "pixels" in its title. Because using a word in a movie title means you own it, right, Disney?
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act -- yes, the same law that says John Deere still owns your sexy tractor -- gives any copyright holder the right to demand that a website take down the material they own. The website owner is then required by law to immediately comply and, if they disagree with the takedown notice, they can later challenge it in court. You may notice that this puts the entire burden on the website owner, which means it's in the interest of copyright holders to simply carpet-bomb websites with takedown notices.
This may explain why, of the 10 videos Columbia sent Vimeo angry letters about, only one of them actually contained any material from the movie, and it was the official trailer.
It may seem strange that Columbia would want to censor an ad for the product they were selling, but -- conspiracy theory ahead -- maybe the whole thing was done deliberately, out of sheer embarrassment over having made Pixels.
Luke T. Harrington writes the weekly column "LOL Interwebz" for Christ And Pop Culture. His debut horror novel, OPHELIA, ALIVE, will be out from Post Mortem Press in 2016. Follow him on Twitter, if that's your thing.
Also be sure to check out The 6 Most Ridiculous Things People Claimed To Legally Own and 5 Baffling Dick Moves That Won Actual Lawsuits.
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