Last week the Estate of artist Joan Miro demonstrated why copyright has gotten a bad name; not just among those who don't believe in protection at all, but among those, like myself, who have believed that the existence of protection is important and appropriate, and at a fair high level. Marty Schwimmer's Trademark Blog has the pictures and details. The short story is this. Last week, Google, in keeping with an occasional practice of honoring holidays or famous people, temporarily modified its logo on its search page with a stylized version of its name that evoked, but did not copy from Miro's works. When I saw it, I got the point and thought it quite clever and fun. Miro's estate thought otherwise, immediately sending a cease-and-desist letter, claiming copyright and moral rights violations. In my opinion, there was neither. Google did the sensible thing, though, and pulled the logo, to all of our loss.
Through its licensing agent, the Artists Rights Society, the Miro estate is quoted as being "very upset about it." And here is the kicker: the spokesperson is quoted as also saying "A lot of problems could have been alleviated if Google had informed the family first. But I'm not saying the family would have agreed to it." Both remarks sets out well why copyright has gotten a bad name. I guess the problems would have been alleviated by simply saying no. But what is there to be upset about? No Miro work was copied. It was not an attempt to market Miro, but rather to recognize him in a sly, amusing way. It was not a commercial use in any realistic way. This is not the first time the Miro estate has, in my opinion, overplayed its hand. An earlier dispute over Miro and DeChamp typefonts is further illustration of what in my opinion is misuse of the existence of some protection to claim protection that doesn't exist.
Miro died in 1983. Suppressing some uses might have been justifiable (although not Google's) during his life, but not now. In 1994, in the House of Representatives, we rejected lobbying requests by the estates of Tin Pan Alley composers for term extension. I later wrote a law article about it called, in brief "protecting the idle rich." The tragedy is that such unseemly efforts give fodder to those who oppose any protection.