Copyrighting Freedom of Expression

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 has given corporations increased power to censor speech that they don't like. It severely curtails the "fair use" doctrine which allows artists, writers and scholars to use fragments of copyrighted works without permission for the purposes of education, criticism and parody. Kembrew McLeod notes that trademark law has been used to spike a web site that parodied Dow Chemical, and Vivendi Universal studios used it to kill on grounds that "certain members of the public ... would be likely to understand 'sucks' as a banal and obscure addition to the reasonably well-known mark Vivendi Universal." Just to prove the absurdity of the law, McLeod has taken out a trademark on the phrase "freedom of expression" itself. "Apparently, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office did not find the idea of someone controlling this phrase morally, socially and politically unsettling, and it granted me ownership of the mark in 1998," he writes.