Python – Why Is There Even An Issue?

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Python logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As soon as I heard about the trademark dispute concerning Python, I tried to contact both sides and understand why there was even an issue. I got through straight away to the Python Software Foundation, but the other party – a UK company called POBox Hosting – waited until Monday afternoon to put me through to their CEO. The result was pretty extraordinary – someone in the hosting business who essentially hadn’t heard of Python until last Friday. Read about it on ComputerWorldUK.

☆ Not So Shire

The Hobbit is one of our local pubs. It’s a rather seedy student-focussed music venue that serves cheap booze under fanciful names taken from Tolkien’s books. Their web site had (now removed from the pages but still on-site) of publicity material derived from the Lord of the Rings movie stills. I had always wondered how they managed to license the copyrights and trademarks from their owners and now we know the answer.  They didn’t.  And the Nazgûl have come home to roost.

This turns out to be quite an interesting case. In terms of trademark law for the name and copyright law for the recycled movie stills, I’ve little doubt the pub are in the wrong and have had this coming for a long time (possibly so long that if they went to court they might make a case that the trademarks have been abandoned…)  But in terms of popular culture, there’s an arguable case that Tolkien’s work now forms a cultural bedrock in the UK that should allow the names and ideas it has popularised to be used freely.

This is one of the areas I think we have a problem with current copyright and trademark law. It’s all framed by short-term thinking where every motive is a business motive of comparable scale and intent. It has no trapdoor for modern cultural artefacts – the songs that have entered the national psyche, the stories that have become every child’s nursery, the images that wallpaper everyone’s memory – to be released from the dragon’s grip and mutate from wealth artefact into cultural jewel.

Worse, the trend is in the opposite direction – longer monopolies, more draconian punishments for violating them (even unknowingly), the permanent annexation of popular culture by the companies lucky enough to have got away with stealing it before the law got this way. The idea of these ‘intellectual monopolies’ being a temporary gift to further the public good is all but lost, especially in the minds of the companies getting rich from them.

So while I don’t think the pub has a chance, I do think it’s worth highlighting the case in public. Sometimes the public good is served by the end of monopolies rather than by their continuation. As a friend said, can you imagine how Britain would be if Shakespeare’s estate still controlled all his works?

 

[Updated March 16:  They’ve removed the loyalty card images from the web site, probably as part of the settlement they have been offered. From the tone of their statement I don’t think they really understand, though, and the poster artwork is still there]

☝ Koha Shows We Need Foundations

Apache has been criticised for preventing new Incubator projects using Git. In its defence, some have claimed this is a criticism of the idea of the Foundation. It’s not, and I use the case of the Koha community to explain why over on ComputerWorldUK today. Thanks to my friends in New Zealand for help on the article, much appreciated.

☝ Fixing The Chilling Effect of Trademarks

Brazil’s new License for Trademarks (Licença Pública de Marca, or LPM) adds additional rights on top of those delivered by open source. It ensures that any trademarks used in the software can be freely used by the community and means that control of trademarks can’t be used to chill the ability to exercise the four freedoms. Is the answer to trademark conflicts like we’ve seen around Hudson and LibreOffice?

Continue reading at ComputerWorldUK

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