Government Organizations Shouldn’t Enjoy Trademark Protection

According to its web site, Shields of Strength “provides fashionable, functional, and durable Christian fitness jewelry and accessories.” Those items include military “dog tags” engraved with quotes from scripture and sometimes the logo of the armed forces branch the customer belongs to.

When the Military Religious Freedom Foundation complained, the Marine Corps Trademark Licensing Office ordered the company to stop combining scripture references and the Corps’ emblem.

Most commentary on the dispute centers around “religious freedom” versus “separation of church and state,” but those seem like side issues to me.

When I served in the Marine Corps, many of my comrades wore crosses, St. Christopher Medals, and other religious symbols on the same chains as their dog tags. As long as a Marine is paying to have his own custom dog tag made with such things incorporated in them rather than hanging separately, and as long as that tag includes the relevant identification information, I just don’t see the problem.

What IS the problem?

According to MCTLO, “[T]he USMC Trademark Licensing Program exists to regulate the usage of Marine Corps trademarks such as the Eagle, Globe and Anchor worldwide. ”

Even assuming the correctness of “intellectual property” claims like copyright, patent, and trademark, such claims don’t past muster when asserted by the US government or its subsidiary agencies such as the Marine Corps. This is especially true of trademarks.

While the justifications for copyright and patent law have their own clause in the US Constitution (“to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”) US trademark law is justified in terms of Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce.

The Marine Corps isn’t a private commercial entity. Nor should its symbols — which date back to 1868 in current form, to 1775 in various forms, and ultimately to the British marines the US based its service’s composition and mission on — be treated as the Marine Corps’ commercial property.

Just as written works created by government employees pursuant to their jobs fall into the public domain under copyright law, official government symbols should fall into the public domain under trademark law.

The Marine Corps logo is a piece of evolving history. It doesn’t belong to the Marine Corps as an organization, or even to the individual Marines who make up that organization. It belongs to all of us.

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Daniel D’Amico: An Economist’s Look at Intellectual Property Law (1h18m)

This episode features a lecture by economics professor Daniel J. D’Amico from 2011 on intellectual property law. He discusses several arguments for and against government enforcement of intellectual property, including trademarks, patents, and copyrights. He explores both moral arguments (deontological) and cost benefit arguments (consequential), dedicating most of his time to consequential arguments. He finds that, in general, intellectual property is difficult to enforce and is inherently an anti-rival good. As a result, he finds no compelling case for government established intellectual property law. Purchase books by Daniel J. D’Amico on Amazon here.

Listen To This Episode (1h18m, mp3, 64kbps)

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On Intellectual Property V

The United States has a “first-to-file” patent system, which means the first person or company to file for a patent on a novel invention gets the monopoly protection. This is obviously a violation of so-called intellectual property rights. Simultaneous invention happens all the time, and so simultaneous ownership of a novel invention should be respected. Further, when one of the inventors decides to license to the entire world without cost (to release it into the public domain), which he is well within his rights as owner to do, the other inventors of that same invention are unable to stop him. All of their hard work no longer has monopoly protection. Both of these opposing ideas, “first-to-file” and simultaneous ownership, should further demonstrate the absurdity of intellectual property, and particularly here, of patents. And that’s today’s two cents.

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On Intellectual Property IV

I heard the claim recently that to use an idea that originated with someone else is to commit a trespass. This begs the question and assumes what proponents of strong intellectual property rights are trying to prove. A trespass is to enter the owner’s property without permission. If ideas cannot be the subject of a property claim, then no trespass can occur by using or copying an idea that originated with someone else. For the sake of argument, let us posit that using someone else’s idea does amount to trespass. Since every new idea is a re-mixture of old ideas, everyone is a trespasser, as I’ve already written. Where does this get us, precisely? Exactly nowhere except gobs and gobs of statecraft in the attempt to balance interests over the use things infinite and unhindered by natural scarcity. It’s all perfectly ridiculous, and insidious. And that’s today’s two cents.

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Culture, Copying, Victimless Crimes, Your Truth, & Social Media (23m) – Editor’s Break 121

Editor’s Break 121 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following topics: the difficulty in implementing democracy in a culture not ready for it; why saying “stealing intellectual property” is a misleading euphemism; why your government is not so different than Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia; the importance of speaking your truth, right or wrong; the government and market forces pushing social media and other companies to deplatform controversial users; and more.

Listen to Editor’s Break 121 (23m, mp3, 64kbps)

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On Intellectual Property III

The private property convention is meant to reduce conflict over naturally scarce resources. When something is made artificially scarce by government fiat, say when ideas are monopolizable (copyright and patent), it is as if a wrench is thrown into the works of a machine. Suddenly, property rights no longer protect an owner’s exclusive right of control over their naturally scarce property. Every creator on earth now has a right of control over how everyone else’s property may be used, ie. may not be configured in certain ways as to implement an idea created by someone else, somewhere else, at some other time, and whether the creator knows about it or not. It’s bad enough that property rights are made less secure by government fiat in many other ways (taxation, regulation, et cetera), but to add insult to injury, ideas (or rather, information) that may be helpful for a property owner to get the most out of his or her property are now off limits as well. It’s no surprise to me that so-called “intellectual property” has statist and corporatist (mercantilist) roots; all the biggest threats to property rights do. And that’s today’s two cents.

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