James Leroy Wilson's blog

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Ron Paul and Trademark

Today I went to jamesbrown.com to find what was there. I expected to find a page either for the late performer, for the CBS broadcaster, or somebody else. Instead, I found that the page was "under construction" and coming soon, but even that seemed cryptic. It was unclear to me if anyone owns the page at all.

What if I had purchased it? I would have probably put on Amazon links to all the singer's CD's, and to biographies and memorabilia. Maybe post articles in praise of Brown. With the click-throughs, I'd be earning money "off" of James Brown. But then again, the Brown estate would also garner revenue from the Amazon sales as well.

Would the Brown estate be entitled to sue me to transfer the domain name to their estate?

What are the claims of the other, most prominent James Brown? Or many others?

I would say, I bought it, I'm using it. I'm not cheating anyone or engaging in fraud. If you want the domain name, make me an offer.

This seems perfectly ethical to me.

Which is why I'm disappointed that the retired politician Ron Paul is using Statist means to try to take RonPaul.com from its owners without compensation

I've seen comments on various websites on the issue. Some think the owners aren't entitled to profit off someone else's name.

I will say this: yes they can. Of course they can.

It's why books that have "Hitler" in the title sell better than books titled "History of Germany 1933-1945."

The late Dick Schaap co-wrote a fictional book with Jimmy Breslin based on the real Son of Sam murders. In his autobiography, Schaap recounts how they faced criticism for "profiting off of a tragedy." Schaap writes that Breslin's response, as I recall (I no longer have the book) was basically, "we're writers!"

And the rest of us have the same rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Ron Paul is a public and historical figure, but he's also just a person with no more rights or privileges than anyone else named Ron Paul. Just as one James Brown has no more rights or privileges than any other James Brown.  

This leads to a more complicated area, that of trademark. But as Stephen Kinsella has argued, "the primary justification for trademark rights is based on the notion of fraud–that the 'infringer' is defrauding his customers by misrepresenting his identity and the source of the goods being sold."

And so Paul may have a point to take this action against the owners of RonPaul.com if they were misrepresenting themselves as being tied to Paul in some official capacity. That doesn't seem to be the case, from what I've seen. Almost all the material seems to have promoted Paul by posting his articles and tv appearances, and even branded itself as a "fan" site instead of "official." They sold memorabilia promoting Ron Paul, and if they profited, good for them! They put up the money to finance such risky ventures.

And even if the site sled off the rails and published stuff Ron Paul wouldn't agree with, it's still the case that the owners have the right to publish anything they like. As Murray Rothbard argued in The Ethics of Liberty and Walter Block in Defending the Undefendable, no one has a "right" to a good reputation.

Moreover, as Kinsella argues...
"US trademark law is unconstitutional. While the US Constitution ... unwisely authorizes Congress to enact copyright and patent law, no provision is made for trademark law. Instead, trademark law is based on an unconstitutionally expanded reading of the Interstate Commerce clause."
To me, it's disappointing, and maybe there's "another side to the story" that Paul will present.

 I know the libertarian theorist Robert Nozick once sued his landlord based on New York's spectacularly immoral rent control laws and got heat for it from libertarians. But then, if I recall, David Schmidtz told Russ Roberts that Nozick explained to him that the landlord was actually violating a contract, which impelled Nozick to take this action.

All the same, this just doesn't look good for Paul. His resort to Statist legal action will leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth. I doubt people will want to go to RonPaul.com now, and probably won't even if and when Ron Paul takes it over.

One last note: today I tweeted Rep. Justin Amash, who more than anyone seems to be carrying the Ron Paul tradition in Congress, to please purchase JustinAmash.com so no one else does.

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