Best of 2009: They always get their man

Posted November 24, 2009.

Dudley and SnidelyYes, people do have some funny ideas of what kinds of things to protect with copyright, don’t they?   A few years ago, criminal enterprise Milberg Weiss (in its pre-conviction days) tried to assert copyright in its own specie — the legal papers it filed to generate kazillions in crooked class-action fees — and not so unreasonably (hmm…).

Anyway, it seems that certain countries, though not as wealthy as Milberg Weiss, nor nearly as scurrilous (indeed, arguably cordial to a fault!), have figured, if an American law firm can try to claim copyright in its own money, why can’t we?   Why not indeed?

And so we read of a vacation. “To experience the full excitement of traveling abroad,” writes Eric E. Johnson,

10 Years of LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION®
10 Years of LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION®

you’ve got to have a pocket full of unfamiliar money. Never mind that their pennies, dimes, nickels, and quarters look almost identical to U.S. coins. And put aside the fact that the exchange rate right now between the U.S. and Canada is almost exactly one-to-one. I was still excited to use different cash.

Inspecting the colorful bills, I got a delightful surprise: a copyright notice!

Aspiring counterfeiters be warned – the bills are copyrighted by the Bank of Canada! That will make you think twice before xeroxing off a sheaf of north-of-the-border moola.

In the United States, we discourage that sort of thing with specially crafted counterfeiting laws. Under these laws, you can be arrested by Secret Service agents who, in proving their mettle to make the presidential security detail, will take you down in broad daylight in a swarm of dark suits and sunglasses while never ceasing to speak covertly into their earpieces.

Ouch!  Eric then goes on to wonder what, exactly, could be the point of this exercise, besides saving money on sunglasses and long overcoats.  Does Canada conceive of some gentlemanly copyright tribunal that will save it the gruesome martial expense and unpleasantness that Uncle Sam would gladly undertake if some pipsqueak tin-horn principality were to try to save a few bucks by just copying our bucks for their money? To use for their money, that is, replacing the trinkets and beads they presumably had been trading with until just then.

I wouldn’t rule that out.  But more likely, the Ministry of Money is being pretty clever here.  Why indeed not include copyright infringement as a belts-and-suspenders civil (and criminal) remedy, just another tool on top of a counterfeiting claim?  It could also be helpful if, for some reason, the elements of the criminal charge of counterfeiting could not be proved, or in order to make use of the various litigation tools available to civil litigants (whatever they may be in a quaint foreign land such as Canadia) but not to government prosecutors.

Uncle Sam Hand
Speak to the hand.

Speak to the hand.

And then there’s the possibility that the fine artwork on the gelt, separate and apart from the cute, colorful Canadian “dollars” themselves, is being protected as well, for any number of reasons.

There are lots of possibilities, I guess, and in fact just before hitting PUBLISH, I figured I’d better check and see if anyone else has enunciated them.  And they did, and not so long ago, either, when Mike Masnick asked the same question and a whole bunch of people tried to answer it.  Yep.

But Eric is right about this:  All the clever rationales in the world aren’t worth a hill of Klondike bars compared to the fact that, well, some things you just don’t do, if you’re an A-List country, you know?

Copyright on the money?  Please.

Ron Coleman

I write this blog.