Wednesday, July 30, 2008
You say you gave the photographer permission to use photos for marketing purposes. Was that part of a formal agreement, and did that formal agreement transfer of copyright to you? If so, you can request that any website posting the photos take them down under the DMCA takedown rules.
Absent an agreement transferring rights, the photographer controls the right to make copies, post the photos, etc. Legally, the photographer can stop others from posting and reproducing the photos although practically, few photographers will do so. (Before digital photos and scanners, wedding photographers exhibited more control. Nowadays, all they can do is blackmail the family by exposing the more embarrassing pix.)
Your problem goes beyond copyright because you're concerned that someone is making false claims regarding the wedding production. Obviously, the more the material is reproduced on websites and blogs, the harder it gets to halt the annoying activity. Legally, you can stop someone from posting false comments that are defamatory (injuring your reputation), invade your privacy, or are used for commercial purposes -- for example, the photographer licensed images of the bride to be used in a magazine advertisement. Since this is a family affair, it's probably not a good idea to pull out the legal guns. The Dear Rich staff (who truly love a good wedding) hopes that this imbroglio does not mar an otherwise pleasant wedding memory.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Dear Rich: Can I get a trademark on my own name so that I can use it exclusively for the crafts items I make and sell? Or do I automatically have a trademark on my name?I'm so glad you asked. The short answers to your questions are "maybe" and "no." Yes, it is your name, but that, by itself, does not create trademark rights. Otherwise, anyone named Gallo could sell wine (or cheese) without getting sued; anyone named Victoria (or Victor) could have a secret; and anyone named Violet Blue could offer sex advice. As with all trademarks, the rights go to the first person to use the name in connection with certain goods and services.
In fact, your name creates a bit of a disadvantage when seeking to register a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). You can't register a personal name with the USPTO unless you can demonstrate that consumers associate your name with your goods or services (referred to as "secondary meaning"). In other words, you need to show that you've been using it for a while to sell goods or services, or have invested some money in advertising the name.
All of this is kind of ironic since the earliest trademarks were the names of crafts people who marked their pottery and silverware with their names.
You can get an idea of whether anyone else is using a similar personal name for crafts by checking the USPTO trademark database (click "Trademarks," then "Search TM database"). Of course, one solution is to combine the use of your name with another term -- for example, Dear Rich -- and then you can go after those competitors with identical monikers or annoyingly similar ones, as well.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Friday, July 11, 2008
Dear Rich: In your books, you warn about invention promoters, yet they advertise on Nolo's website. If they're so bad, why does Nolo accept advertising from them? I'm so glad you asked. An invention promotion company is a company that charges a fee to market and protect an invention. There are a few legitimate invention promoters and a lot of unscrupulous ones. The unscrupulous ones reap millions(like LOTS of millions) from duped inventors. Imagine if these companies were duping inventors when Hiram Maxim and Philo Farnsworth were inventing. We might not have themachine gun or the television. Hmm.
Nolo attempts to block Google ads from scam operators. Unfortunately, the attempt has a whack-a-mole quality because once a company is successfully filtered, the same company often surfaces under a new name. As noted above, the Federal Trade Commission has had similar problems chasing scam marketers. One invention marketing company settled with the government and reportedly used this settlement to their advantage, brazenly advertising they were the only invention promotion company "following government guidelines."
It's easy to avoid unscrupulous invention promoters. You can sort out the good from the bad at InventorEd and NIFC. Besides checking these sites, the USPTO offers ten warning signs (.pdf) of promotion scams. Also, Congress provided some legal controls over scam marketing companies when it enacted the "Invention Developers" law in 1999. Nolo now offers you a way to bypass invention promoters. Our online provisional patent application program enables you to achieve patent pending status in an online application and at a reasonable price. You can read more about provisionals here.
Friday, July 4, 2008
Dear Rich: I attended a fireworks show and the people running it said the show was copyrighted. Is that possible? I'm so glad you asked. It's unlikely that a fireworks display will be protected by copyright. The big issue is fixation. Copyrighted works must be fixed in some medium -- that is, they must be "sufficiently permanent" so that they can be perceived for a period "of more than transitory duration." (Ice sculptures have a better shot at protection.)
In Australia, a fireworks company claimed that its choreographed display constituted a dramatic work. Nice try.The Australian court (.pdf) acknowledged that some events within the show might constitute a visual arts work ... but the issue was moot since anyone could film or broadcast the public event under Australian fair use rules. In 2004, two Kentucky TV stations resolved their dispute over a fireworks broadcast (without a court battle), although one station manager was convinced that copyright did not protect scripted fireworks displays.
Photos, drawings, and films of fireworks are protected by copyright, as are the computer programs that run the pyrotechnics. And of course, the label artwork can be protected under copyright and trademark law. In any case, we're more concerned with the environmental impact of fireworks than the intellectual property rights and to that end, I guess this is one of the few times that the Dear Rich staff (... wait, this is the real staff) is rooting for Disney to lead the way.