Steal your plate

The Jews take a worldwide day off from eating, and what happens when they sit down and pick up their forks and knives to dig in?  Their enemies want to take their food away and get fees, too!

MBA Legal intern Andie Schwartz sends along this item from Mike Masnick at TechDirt about what happens when intellectual property rights are so abused by people who should know better, that those who know less — and whose intent is something less than benign — come to think of it as a way to just plain get your way when you don’t like how things are turning out for you:

Another day, another ridiculous intellectual property lawsuit. Along the same lines as various regions in France declaring that only they can sell “Champagne” or Greece being the only one allowed to offer “feta,” a group in Lebanon is claiming that various popular middle eastern foods such as hummus, falafel, tabouleh and baba gannouj are property of Lebanon and Lebanon alone. In fact, the group is planning to sue Israel for “stealing” its food. They’re actually claiming that this could be a violation of a “food copyright” (something that doesn’t actually exist). Specifically, the group says that since Israel sells such foods, it’s taking “tens of millions of dollars” away from Lebanon, where those foods should be bought. This, folks, is what happens when you build up a society around the idea of “owning” infinite goods.

We mostly agree with him, even if his last sentence is a little incoherent.  Masnick seems to be in love with the naive concept of “infinite goods,” and his misapprehensions are examined fruitfully here.  Besides, no one has ever tried to “build a society” around the ownership of abstract rights — even intellectual property rights, unless you count INTA or the RIAA as a “society.”  And if anyone ever did so, that society would not be the Republic of Lebanon.

If Masnick cut the hyperbole and just said, as he does at the beginning, that we are developing a worldwide culture that thanks of IP as a generic problem-solver for commercial, cultural or personal disappointment — why, he’d be right on.

And the fact is the Jews did “steal” falafel.  But they also stole pizza, too, which a million Israeli children think was invented by Ben Gurion.  (They also stole “Flatbush,” but that’s a topic for a different blog.)  Yet for some reason, Sicily has managed to attract its share of tourist dollars without inventing new tortes torts on which to slather its grievances against the you-know-whos.

Either way, pass the falafel — we’re still pretty hungry …

UPDATE:  Marty Schwimmer digs in a tad more analytically:

The Lebanese entity is likely thinking about appellations of origin (Champagne sparkling wine, Feta cheese, Parma ham) which are conventional methods of protecting a geographic name associated with a food but can’t be used to protect the generic name. “Lebanon” is (was?) potentially protectable for cedars of Lebanon.

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Author:Ron Coleman

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