with Larry Cruikshank

(And you can't use it)

Good thing there were no copyrights, patents and trademarks when Joe Caveman invented the wheel. Otherwise Mr. Firestone and Mr. Goodyear might have had an uphill battle getting their tires on the road. The families of both rubber-masters would probably still be fighting a copyright infringement lawsuit in Fifth Judicial Jurassic Court. What's worse, we would all have donut-shaped rocks on our automobiles.

Domain name controversies, trademark wars and copyright infringement battles are a fact of life, especially when it comes to cyberspace. But some of these lawsuits are just plain silly. Have you ever wondered why there are so many such fights going on? Have you ever wondered why intellectual property cases are flourishing? Will Andy Rooney sue me for using the phrase "have you ever wondered why?"

Now as a freelance writer, I can understand the need for some copyright laws and I appreciate the value of a name. I sympathize with those creative souls who want some protection from pirates. But I don't fully agree with some of their arguments or claims. And for some strange reason I feel that the Internet should be "free turf," exempt from some of the laws concerning the print world. Everything should be stolen and "posted." There is no better library than the Internet. I love the fact that a multitude of fantastic goodies are out there, free for the taking (or downloading).

My computer room is filled with masterpieces. Picasso and Van Gogh, Cezanne and Monet. OK, so they're not the originals. But they are pretty cool 8 x 10 versions, magnificently reproduced on my HP Deskjet 682C printer and taken from sites on the Internet. Yes, it cost me a few thousand dollars to get quality computer equipment, but I figure I saved a millions on my art collection.

No, I don't like some of these greedy companies and artists who are suing Web site owners. I absolutely hate the "that's mine and you can't use it" mentality of today's successful people. Everything has to mean money in their pockets. If something is copied onto a Web site, then they want a piece of any profits made. And others just don't want their work seen on the Internet at all. Take Gary Larson creator of The Far Side for instance. He forbids the posting of his work on the Internet. Larson sent a letter to one of his Internet fans in November of last year politely asking her to "cease and desist" posting copies of his cartoons. The Far Side fan posted the letter on the Internet and respectfully pulled the cartoons.

Larson called the cartoons his "children," and said he is "concerned about where they go at night without telling (him)." He wrote… "My effort here is to try and speak to the intangible impact, the emotional cost to me, personally, of seeing my work collected, digitized, and offered up in cyberspace beyond my control."

Like I said, I can sympathize with such concerns. But it's funny how fame works. I wonder if Mr. Larson would feel the same way if he was just starting out? Hundreds of artists, especially poets, are finally getting the exposure they deserve all because of the Internet. Cyberspace - like the vast cosmic realm the shuttle flies through - can not be "controlled" completely. Let the print publishers pay Mr. Larson top dollar for his extremely funny cartoons. And protect him from plagiarism or tampering. But post the stuff on the Internet as well. Real fans will still buy the printed material.

As far as his "children" ending up in a bad neighborhood, well that's just tough. His printed cartoons are taped up in offices, living rooms, board rooms, and yes, bathrooms. Whether it's hung in the Louvre or the loo, it's still a compliment to the artist.

Many top companies are getting into the domain name and copyright wars. Toys R Us for their "R Us," Fox, the NBA and NFL, Elvis Presley Enterprises and even Hormel, maker of the ever popular SPAM. (Junk meal, not junk email.) Even David Letterman's team of legal beagles have gotten into the warning business.


One thing is for sure, this battle will still be raging come the turn of the century. There are no simple answers.


PS - Post this column anywhere you want - I don't mind.

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