Photo: eldeeem

The Mob + Intellectual Property Rights

Maybe Corporations Should Not Steal, Have We Tried That Yet?

There’s a story flying around the interwebs this weekend, and it’s about Turner Barr, a blogger who had a novel idea: he would travel “around the world in 80 jobs” – doing odd jobs from a rice farmer to an extra in a documentary. He’s been writing about this on his website http://aroundtheworldin80jobs.com/ for the last two years. Last month, a global HR firm Adecco launched a campaign with the same name.

According to Barr, they even went so far as to hire an actor who looked very similar to him to be the spokesperson. (Adecco quietly removed the YouTube video the day after the controversy started online). The personality, the concept, the name, all of it was eerily similar to what Barr had been creating, he says. Worst of all Adecco filed a trademark application in April 2013 with the law firm Paul Weiss and had the TM insignia at the end of the phrase “Around the World in 80 Jobs” wherever they used it.

Contestants started contacting Barr, thinking he was part of the competition.

Anyway, the Internet got its pitchforks out, Adecco made a statement that focused more on their commitment to the original purpose of the initiative – rather than addressing the core issue at hand – IP theft.

Until Adecco gives their side of things, we don’t know the whole story. But already there are people saying that Turner Barr was a fool for not trademarking his idea.

Maybe. But consider the costs. One lawyer, Rachel Rodgers, offers a trademarking service for $2,000. She argues, “take the work you create seriously & take steps to protect your intellectual property”. That sounds great but here’s the reality: I teach a blogging course where I sometimes have a hard time convincing bloggers to simply register their own domain and move off of free hosting sites like blogspot.com – which only costs about $75/year. Blogging is prolific because the bar for entry is incredibly low. If we say that unless you pay $2,000 up front you’re essentially encouraging corporations to steal your ideas without recourse, then what we’re doing is excusing this behavior. The Internet is free, open and putting a $2,000 cost on protecting your content sounds to me like extortion.

The costs of trademarking don’t end when you register. Some lawyers offer annual packages for this kind of work at a flat fee. Another cost. Then there’s going to court. How in the world could Turner Barr or anyone afford to go up against Adecco & their high priced attorneys in a court of law? They could easily drag it out for years, and even with a lawyer working on consignment, that’s not really protecting or preventing this kind of theft, it’s just offering some financial reward for going through what is essentially a hellish experience.

There needs to be a way to address these kinds of situations, where the person owns the domain name, has a long history of use and documentation of the concept and it needs to be via small claims court. The system is broken. It shouldn’t be prohibitively expensive to protect your creative work.

Instead we’re left to rally the mob, a messy, ugly way of doing business, because there is a gaping hole in our legal system. The only recourse for the creative is public shaming

I hope we will stop the victim blaming. If I create a piece of art in my backyard, I don’t have to write my name on it to own it. We own our work, we own the copyright, we own what we call it, we own all of it. If someone crawls over my fence and steals it, whether that’s from my blog or from my back stoop, the effect is the same. It’s theft plain and simple. The fact that there’s no easy way to report it and go after these corporate bullies is the injustice. We shouldn’t have to sharpen our pitchforks, but until there’s a simple, affordable way to report and stop this kind of theft, corporations will continue to use their size and power silence their victims.

(Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ltdemartinet)