31 January 2008

Enclosing the Language Commons

One of the many arguments against patenting software is that it's as stupid as copyrighting language: if you did that, nobody could talk without getting sued. Similarly, thanks to the essential nature of software algorithms, nobody can program without infringing on something.

It seems that we may need to revise that example of ridiculousness:

Last year, in an attempt to wrestle a few pennies of the GST from the tight-fisted grip of the federal government, the City of Toronto launched a snazzy public relations campaign under the banner “one cent now.”

Unfortunately, before they could enjoy the fruits of their labour, they were slapped with a cease-and-desist order by the Royal Canadian Mint.

The dispute was over the phrase “one cent.” It turns out it is not in the public domain. For the privilege of using it, the City of Toronto needed to pay the mint more than $47,000 in licensing fees, something it neglected to do.

It was an honest oversight. After all, who would have thought a corporation, private or public, could own a phrase so common to everyday language?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think that George Orwell was well ahead of us on that.. see The Libre Culture Manifesto...

glyn moody said...

Yes, that would be the next step....