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Magazines > Information Today > February 2004
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Information Today

Vol. 21 No. 2 — February 2004

DEPARTMENT
LETTER TO THE EDITOR


Copyright Claims and Trademark Usage

I read with some interest your article about The Library Hotel in the December 2003 issue of Information Today. I agree that it was indeed a funny lawsuit on its face, but I don't really think that it is all that controversial. Mostly, the Dewey Decimal Classification system makes for good humor for the general public (librarians included).

I was disappointed that your article didn't make a distinction between the copyright claims and those involving trademark usage. You note that "Considering that the DDC is 130 years old, you would think the classification scheme is in the public domain." Indeed it's "[n]ot true" as you state, but for different reasons than you seem to imply.

The system itself may have passed into public domain for some purposes. Melvil Dewey certainly has no patent rights, and even in our post-Sonny Bono atmosphere, his original system has no chance of copyright protection. However, this is a trademark issue, and trademarks can last (potentially) forever. The importance of it being in use for 130 years is that it has been in use in interstate commerce, connected with products and services. This is the hallmark of trademark protection.

If OCLC didn't exercise their rights to protect their valid, incontestable trademarks, they might be lost. They need to "police" their marks, lest they be surrendered to the public.

Thankfully, the lawsuit has been settled, so we don't need to worry about the thorny issues of trademark dilution, let alone a battle between a kind-hearted nonprofit and a shiny for-profit hotel in New York. At best, I think that this lawsuit got The Library Hotel some publicity and it allowed OCLC to get some deserved licensing fees for use of their trademarks. Unfortunately, OCLC got some bad press in the process, but it could have been worse for them, I suppose. Too bad it didn't bring to light more interesting distinctions of the types of intellectual property actually involved.

For what it's worth, I wrote a short piece on the lawsuit back in September. I thought that the Bliss Classification System might be a good alternative, but I doubt that they'll change now (http://www.llrx.com/features/deweyoclc.htm).

—Roger V. Skalbeck
Technology Librarian
George Mason University School of Law

 


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