I make films. I'm also a nerd.

Our Copyright System Breeds Lunacy

I think I could easily demonstrate a thousand ways in which the copyright / trademark system in the United States has become completely ridiculous, and maybe I’ll get to work on that project over the long term. For now, I’d like to call attention to a recent event which encapsulates one of the bigger problems pretty starkly.

John Siracusa wanted to make a nerdy shirt and sell a few of them before WWDC. His shirt included one of the icons from the original Macintosh. The artist1 who designed the icon–not Apple, mind you–made a stink. Marco Arment has clarified the details of the matter (Siracusa decided it was best just to pull the original shirts with little explanation):

The artist had no right to make such a threat. Only Apple could, and if their legal department saw the shirt and objected, they could have filed a simple DMCA claim with Teespring. But they didn’t, because who cares if a guy with a podcast makes a one-off run of a thousand T-shirts for a bunch of geeks like us with a 29-year-old monochrome icon?

Anyone who can’t see that we have a problem here is either blind, stupid, or evil. Did you ever watch a TV show in which a laptop’s Apple logo is blurred out? Yeah, there’s no real legal reason for that–it’s just that producers would rather play it safe. Anyone can sue anyone else even if the case has no merit whatsoever, and since defending against even a frivolous suit can cost a mountain of money, we all walk around on proverbial eggshells. Just try to imagine all of the other paranoid concealments you see in various media every single day. You know when a guy on television walks into a bar and just orders “a beer,” as opposed to a Budweiser, say? How dumb is that?

  1. It is exceedingly obvious who “the artist” is, but no one will say “the artist’s” name–just to play it safe from a legal point of view. This is the sort of insanity I’m talking about.