I’ve been watching the debate about O’Reilly’s enforcement of its “Web 2.0″ service mark with mild amusement. It’s the old world being pistol-whipped by the new. Again. And ironically (…or not, depending on how much you know), it’s the O’Reilly camp on the receiving end. Again.
Look, I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably have to keep saying it again and again, but once you go open, you can never go back. Nor is there a half-way point down the rabbit hole.
If you benefit from open source, you give back to it. You play by its rules, not ones that you dictate. Period. If you don’t, the system self-corrects and kicks your ass. (Oh, and I hope that Microsoft is listening, because if it’s just playing nice while Mr Ozzie is on top for now, it’s inching ever-closer to the biggest bitch-slap of its storied existence).
Trademark, copyright and patents are the DRM of genius. They lock down possibilities and in effect, shut down imagination and inspiration. Unsanctioned and unlicensed, that is. On Marc’s blog, Ian Betteridge writes:
Trademarks laws are designed to protect consumers, not to ensure a revenue stream for companies. Theyâ€™re designed so that no one can make crappy vacuum cleaners and call them “Hoover” (except, Hoover themselves, of course ), thus fooling you out of money and incidentally protecting the company from damage to its reputation.
This is the correct interpretation of trademark law as it was intended in 1876. Yeah, that’s right, 130 years ago.
Now while many laws that’ve been on the books for a while now still apply and make sense, things have changed and as evidenced by our country’s leadership, not all laws make as much sense anymore.
Intellectual property protections at one time served to protect the consumer, the little guy, the entrepreneur. That was back when the feedback loop that corrected fraudulent activities was slow, tedious and often ended with a dual in the middle of main street. With patents being filed en masse by folks like Texas Instruments (who will likely never use or enforce the majority of their portfolio), with copyright being used to stifle creativity and expression and trademarks being applied to community-protected language and ideas, it’s clear that the original uses and purposes of these legal concepts are not only under scrutiny, but may have finally become the last ditch effort large power-mongering corporations with major budgets to go after the smaller, more nimble independents that they were designed to protect.
. . .
Now, when I originally made my case for Community Marks, it was in response to two frustrating experiences that I’d had working on SpreadSpread campaigns for Mozilla and Creative Commons, two bastions of open intellectual product. In both cases, ownership of their trademarks stymied their desire to allow their communities to assume ownership — and enforcement — of their identifying symbols (aka logos and wordmarks), and in effect, squashed nascent community-based efforts to do the work of more costly PR firms.
The Community Mark was a prediction of the kind of ongoing community tarring happening to O’Reilly. This is, after all, what happens when you try to take away the language or symbols by which a community identifies itself and serves as a warning for what could happen to Mozilla if they stepped up and stopped community projects from cropping up. Or what would happen if anyone tries to trademark BarCamp or use it for purposes that the community does not sanction or endorse.
And that’s why, without any other necessary action than merely calling it one, BarCamp has been and will continue to be, a Community Mark. The BarCamp community is a far better mechanism for detecting fraud and shutting it down than any obnoxiously-expensive legal department. And when you’re dealing with an environment as large as the web, what other choice do you have? You can’t possibly register your trademark in every single web-touching, worldwide jurisdiction (as Tom points out). And yeah, go ahead, tell me that I’m naive and that’s not how business works and blah blah blah ok-you’re-boring-me because you’ll end up in exactly the same shoes that O’Reilly/CMP/cha cha cha chimichanga enchilada find themselves in today.
I mean, honestly, wouldn’t you rather have the enormous power of the community on your side than not? Ok then, case closed.