What are we going to do about Copyright?

Doug Yanega dyanega at DENR1.IGIS.UIUC.EDU
Fri Nov 1 13:37:52 CST 1996

Richard Jensen wrote:
> Barbara's comment on names (see below) reminded me of something that came
> up briefly a year or so ago.  As I recall, there has been discussion of
> countries (or other groups) claiming ownership of the genome of native
> plants, apparently with the intent of receiving revenue from development
> of commercial genotypes, e.g., cultivars developed for drug production or
> as food crops.
> Does anyone out there know what might be happening on this front?

The last I heard, the pharmaceutical companies doing "chemical
prospecting" were getting around this international agreement on
royalties by targeting plants in botanical gardens rather than going to
the actual countries of origin, and creating quite a little hubbub in the
process. Completely defeats the spirit of the agreements by exploiting a
technical loophole. I seem to recall hearing that herbarium collections
were also being targeted as possible sources for royalty-free
prospecting, but that may be my fuzzy memory acting up again. If this
keeps up, we WILL have to start charging fees for people to use natural
history collections, or at least have everyone sign disclaimers that the
collection gets any royalties for anything commercially valuable found
        To get back to the copyright issue, I think Richard is perfectly
safe, whatever that fool lawyer tells him. Using a newly-coined species
name is no different from using a newly-coined common name, or a
newly-coined name for a fictional character in the mass media; to my
knowledge, the only thing that can protect a *name* is a trademark, which
is very different from a copyright. Even there, you can mention the name
of a trademarked thing, without having to pay royalties - you just can't
appropriate the name for your own use, and you should technically include
the little "TM" symbol when you refer to the trademark name. And, it's
more than science that would die if the use of names required royalties;
we wouldn't be able to have news services, as they'd be forced to say
things like "That guy who runs our country gave a speech today; he said
lots of things about that other country's financial problems..." or "In
sports today, that team from the south beat that western team, and that
really well-paid outfielder hit two home runs in one inning", etc.
        I'm all for getting back to the original topic, on which few
people have commented lately.
Doug Yanega

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