September 14, 2005
Kids: Understand the USPTO's distortion of the law

Robyn alerts me to the USPTO's kids' pages, where they've posted a colorful -- but sharply slanted -- "Put a stop to piracy" campaign. We thought it needed a bit of annotation to help kids understand (red from the USPTO page, black mine):


You hook up a VCR to your DVD player and make copies of your movie collections as gifts for your pals.
Sorry. You try to hook the two together but Macrovision prevents you from getting a clear picture, even when the movies you want to copy are no longer in print or you're trying to extract scenes to add to commentaries. You probably won't be able to find a macrovision-less VCR, because Macrovision has been suing their makers for patent infringement.

You capture pictures from TV shows and post them on your website along with soundbytes that make you laugh.
Great, you've got a pre-broadcast-flag TV setup that lets you make fair use of media. Hold onto it, because if Hollywood and the FCC have their way, you'll be technologically prevented from grabbing these captures in the future. A "soundbyte" sounds ok, just remember that a sound-gigabyte probably exceeds fair use.

You buy a fake pair of designer shoes from a street vendor - they look like the real thing and cost only a few dollars.
Cool, so long as they weren't made by sweatshop labor and you weren't deceived into thinking you'd bought real designer merchandise. You've just saved yourself a bundle and helped the free market. Fashion designs aren't copyrightable, and trademark protects only against consumer confusion.

Can you spot others? Remember, kids, "these laws and regulations as well as the application process can be very complicated."

Posted by Wendy at September 14, 2005 07:40 AM | TrackBack

Good stuff! Screw RIAA and USPTO.

Posted by: Shawn on September 14, 2005 08:51 AM

You need to do a report for school and you found one on-line that's exactly what you were planning to write.

How it that illegal? Unethical, yes, but I can't see where the copyright infringement is.

Posted by: Adam on September 14, 2005 09:07 AM

Your mom gave you a printer that can print out iron-on transfers and you want to make a bunch of T-shirts with a famous cartoon character or movie star screaming your name.

Great! You're following in the footsteps of the great American artist, Robert Rauschenberg. You may lose some lawsuits, but you're CREATING ART!

Posted by: DNA on September 14, 2005 09:10 AM

Fantastic! Do you think you could do the rest of them?

Posted by: Jesse on September 14, 2005 09:43 AM

"You need to do a report for school and you found one on-line that's exactly what you were planning to write."

Great! This is what we call a "reference source." Of course, to copy the report verbatim would constitute plagarism. What you should do is to read the entire thing, pick out the best points applicable to what you are writing about. You can actually use exact wording from the original, so long as you make it clear to your reader where those phrases were taken from in a bibliography or footnote. We hope you get that "A" for such attention to detail!

"Your dad bought you an MP3 player, so you e-mail your friends and swap the latest music."

Great! The very latest music is typically from independant artists you hope that you will share their music with others, which is why the artists gave you the music in the first place. This is free publicity for them, and not for the fodder promoted on the radio. A great source of other legally free music can be found on at We here at the USPTO suggest Umphrey's McGee, although the Grateful Dead might be more enjoyable for your parents as well.

"You and your friends decide to share the cost of one copy of a software package and install it on all everyone's laptops so you can all save money"

Great! Distributions of Linux are freely available; the fee you paid was really for the packaging and printed manuals. Try to install that new OS on as many computers as possible to really "stick it to the man!"

Posted by: J_Omega on September 14, 2005 09:45 AM

You're busking in the street and somebody asks you to play "Happy Birthday" for their wife. They give you a dollar in payment.

You should pocket the dollar and not pay any royalties to Summy-Birchard Music/AOL Time Warner and the Hill Foundation - because "Happy Birthday" should be in the friggin' PUBLIC DOMAIN by now!

Posted by: Jonathan on September 14, 2005 09:54 AM

Your cousin asks to borrow your music CD so he can "burn" a copy.

Congratulations! You recorded your own music, and are on your way to becoming the next greatest independent artist! Ask your cousin to make extra copies for his friends.

Posted by: Doug on September 14, 2005 10:39 AM

You sneak a video camera or digital recorder into a concert or movie and record it so you can share it with your buddies or on your website.

Right on! But next time, ask Wilco's sound guy to plug your recorder right into the soundboard — you'll get a much better recording to share with your friends. Don't forget to post a torrent so other fans can enjoy the show.

Posted by: Gordo on September 14, 2005 10:41 AM

Your comments on fake designer goods is a little off. There are some new aspects of trademark law which could deem purchasing fake goods illegal called "post purchase confusion" or "secondary confusion". Essentially the owner of a very famous mark (such as Louis Vuitton) can sue a producer of fake goods for a variety of reasons, one emerging theory being that someone who sees the fake goods will be confused into thinking it the real thing and since fakes are generally inferior products, the second consumer will associate those lessened qualities with the real trademarked good, resulting in "post purchase confusion" and diminution of the overall trademark value.

Posted by: yoshi on September 14, 2005 11:27 AM

Anyone who buys a cheap Louis Vuitton hangbag either knows that it's a fake or is out of touch with reality; there's no such thing as a cheap Louis Vuitton bag.

Posted by: on September 14, 2005 12:21 PM

Thanks for all the help filling these in!

"Your friends found a really cool website where you can download the latest movies for free."

Good stuff. Was it one of , , or ? Or perhaps a search for Creative Commons Licensed films, or on Google video, .
Maybe you'll be inspired to add your own to the collection.

Posted by: Wendy on September 14, 2005 01:26 PM

Thanks Yoshi. I disagree with the "secondary confusion" rationale because I think it harms free-market competition around design, but you're right to add it to the discussion.

Posted by: Wendy on September 14, 2005 01:30 PM

"Your cousin asks to borrow your music CD so he can "burn" a copy."

Congratulations! It appears you've purchased a CD that hasn't been crippled with DRM, in all likelihood from an independent/non-major label artist who understands that when music fans share the music they love, everyone wins.

"Your dad bought you an MP3 player, so you e-mail your friends and swap the latest music."

Congratulations! It appears you've purchased or downloaded digital music files that haven't been crippled with DRM (in all likelihood from a source other than iTunes). You're continuing the tradition of home taping (much like the sort of copying permitted by Congress under the Audio Home Recording Act). Your dad probably did much the same thing back in the 70s. And because we know that the recording industry cares about families, we're sure that they won't mind contributing to the bonding experience that you and your father are now sharing.

Posted by: travisty on September 14, 2005 03:38 PM

Yoshi is full of sh*t. Anyone who actually buys Louis Vuitton products (or Coach, or Kate Spade, or any of another targets for knock-offs) knows darn well if it is authentic or not. My wife can spot a knock-off handbag (or clothes, shoes, hats, etc.) at fifty paces.

She complains that I won't let her buy them anymore (since we got married), but she pointed out an uppity broad at the new Crate and Barrel in Milwaukee, last weekend wearing nothing authentic. We began to wonder if she was an alien - since nothing else about her was what she intended people to think.

As the anonymous user above pointed out - people who buy the real thing know how to spot a fake.

(I lost two corners off my man card just for knowing the above designers.)

Posted by: dale baker on September 15, 2005 05:00 PM

Great, anyone wanna bring in how the HDTV conversion is going to make it so much easier to crack down on recording anything off the airwaves, for any purpose? Make everything digital, and it'll all get digitally coded to prevent saving, sharing, and (not that this matters) even getting other people interested in the damn things in question atall. Since when is money to a producion company and copyright lawyers more important then being known and recognized for your work, and its contribution to the world? Personally, I am holding onto my cassette tapes and stereo w/ dual deck and turntable -- and our VCR -- as long as possible. Helps me as an independant artist, too. Treat everyone like intellectual-property criminals, and believe me, they'll start acting like 'em for real.

Posted by: Aureantes on September 16, 2005 06:03 PM

Oh, and I did study this stuff in college -- "Legal Issues in the Arts and Entertainment", good class. Pity that so many people can't tell the difference between fair use & personal sharing and outright for-profit commercial piracy. And that so many lawyers and corporations don't particularly care about either artists or the media consumers that are their audiences, so long as they get their settlements and big bucks. Fair use is fair use -- hell, or *should* be, even if it's the ultra-litigious 'Church of Scientology' that doesn't like anyone looking at their material too closely. There are, imho, higher ideals to serve.

Posted by: Aureantes on September 16, 2005 06:16 PM

The Good blog! Very interesting! Respect you! This is my site:

Posted by: plumbing crane on November 1, 2005 06:48 PM

I also took a class in school Legal Issues in the Arts and Entertainment - glad I did.

Posted by: qlic on November 4, 2005 04:42 PM

as for fake desinger clothes, thats the norm these days.

cheers, sam

Posted by: sam on November 4, 2005 04:45 PM

This is cool, you have to try it. I guessed 51343, and this game guessed it! See it here -

Posted by: Allison Trump on November 14, 2005 05:28 PM
Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember info?