FeaturesGetting Cross

Getting Cross

On the whole, I approve of property rights. The whole communism movement has never really floated my boat ? partly because I like to see some connection between my labour and my (entirely reasonable) salary, but also because I am unable to think of a single car or building (or boat for that matter) built by socialists which has had an ounce of aesthetic merit. I can appreciate that pure utilitarian design can have a certain beauty, but a system which incarcerates novelists, artists and thinkers for their political views is always going to struggle to get the best out of people.

Of course, in an ideal communist state, everybody would be provided for according to their needs (which is fine so long as they realise that my needs extend to a wine cellar, racing yacht and car collection), and so there would be no need for charities. Clearly, this would be catastrophic in Jersey as it would result in a legion of ladies of a certain age who had hitherto kept themselves entertained with charitable activities having absolutely nothing to do ? causing a predictably devastating effect on the alcoholism, domestic violence and divorce statistics. In fact, the whole fabric of society would quickly crumble into a morass of drinking, fighting and fornicating (thus fulfilling the JEP?s dearest wish as all its complaints about behaviour in town on a Friday night finally become reality).

As it is, charitable causes get a particularly warm reception over here as wallets laden with cash and guilt are lightened in equal measure by teams of fundraisers desperate to do the right thing. However, in my view the problems start when charities become businesses and start paying out thousands or even millions of pounds on advertising and wages ? funds which frankly would be better spent elsewhere. Fortunately there are websites out there (such as http://www.charitynavigator.org) which identify which charities spend the most and the least on administration thus enabling people to make sure that the money they donate actually does what they want it to.

Now, I?m not naïve to the extent that I expect multi-million pound projects to be managed entirely by volunteers and I?m perfectly happy to accept that a charity

such as the NSPCC should pay money to corporate behemoths so as to ensure that people are aware of child abuse and the need to stop it, but is a minute-long advert setting out gruesome tales of abuse really helping anyone? I reckon that if someone is actively abusing children, they?ve probably reached a mental state where watching an advert on TV, no matter how harrowing, isn?t going to make a jot of difference.

I know that this is probably the wrong message, but all I get from the process is that the NSPCC would like to let us know how horrible child abuse is, so we then donate money to them, so that they can pay for more adverts about how horrible child abuse is. I can save them the trouble ? if you are reading this and are somehow in two minds over whether child abuse is or isn?t a bad thing, you should know that i) it is a very bad thing and ii) if you do it, you will go to jail where you will be introduced to a man called Bubba who will make you realise how deeply unpleasant a romantic evening in can be.

So what do charities have to do with property rights, you might ask (if you haven?t stopped bothering looking for joined-up discussion long ago)? Simple. The Red Cross in America is currently engaged in a dispute with Johnson & Johnson (a major US manufacturer of health supplies) over the use of the red cross symbol. You may think that as the Red Cross is called, well, the Red Cross, that they had the right to use the red cross symbol as they liked. In which case you?d be wrong. And you?d be severely overestimating the morals of American lawyers.

Although the organisations which popularised the red cross as a sign for medics in wartime predate our friends at Johnson x2, it was the latter who registered a trademark application for the symbol in 1887, a whole thirteen years before the American Red Cross received its charter from the US Congress. Apparently, the founder of the Red Cross had in 1895 entered into an agreement with J&J which gave it the exclusive use of the symbol for drug, chemical and surgical products.

This arrangement worked fine for a hundred years or so, but recently the Red Cross have started trying to licence the symbol to other companies to raise money ? their funds having dried up in the last year due to, ironically, a lack of high-profile American disasters (apparently the sight of homeless millionaires after the Malibu fires provoked more schadenfreude than anything else). Jsquared have taken exception to this development and their lawyers are demanding that the Red Cross should hand over the profits it has made together with any unsold stocks. The whole thing sounds like a recipe for PR suicide (even considering that JJ have donated US$5m to the Red Cross over the last three years), but it throws into relief the problems caused where intellectual property rights are claimed over an image or phrase that, to all intents and purposes, is already in the public domain.

You?ve probably heard of daft publicity-courting efforts like Posh Spice trying to copyright the word ?Posh? or Paris Hilton trying to copyright the phrase ?That?s Hot? but imagine if someone were to try to claim the image of Mont Orgueil or Corbiere as their own property and stop others using it. Sounds mad? If I set up Corbiere Studios limited and had an image of the lighthouse as my logo at the start of every film, what?s to stop me claiming that the use of that image in connection with films as a trademark? People would associate the image with my business and so surely I should be able to protect it from exploitation? It?s this balancing act of public and private interests that keeps us lawyers thinking ? and for every hour we spend thinking, someone ends up getting the bill?

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