Monday, May 08, 2006

Who owns the smiley face?

As I understand it a man named Harvey Ball was commissioned to design something to help employee morale after a company merger. He drew the smiley face and was paid $45 for this effort. In the 1970s he finally thought of applying for a copyright on the product but it was too late. By then it had been reproduced millions of times and was in public domain.

Ah, but that didn't stop a Frenchman from running around the world and copyrighting the symbol in different nations and then using this legal privilege to force others into paying him royalties. He has made a whole industry out of holding others ransom to his demands that he be paid a royalty. This man has pulled in millions over the years and has attorneys around the world ready to threaten users of the smiley face with a law suit unless they cough up. But the Frenchman, Franklin Loufrani, couldn't get the copyright in the US either. So instead he is trying to get it registered as a trademark.

But that move is being countererd by Wal-Mart which wants the trademark, in relation to retail outlets, for themselves. Loufrani is fighting the matter. His attorney said: "For those of us who just live in the world, maybe it looks silly, but for those who are reaping a financial benefit, I think it's very important."

Personally it doesn't sound like Loufrani really has a claim on the matter just that he copyrighted something according to the law in other countries and was thus given a legal right over something for which he had no moral right. But he has a state granted monopoly and that allows him to extort money out of people and make millions in the process.