Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Intellectual Property Theft

So obviously impossible. An oxymoron. It has its uses as a rhetorical tool, perhaps, but it's one of the many things that drove me to write a Dictionary of Intellectual Property.

Doonesbury has taught me more than just about anything in my entire life (until last week, at any rate) and this morning I came across the verb "to bogart". The fact that it has taken me until now to do so shows that I was in fact really quite young and innocent in the sixties, and didn't listen to the right music. Nor did I see Easy Rider until rather later. I'm still innocent, but have become rather older since then - though I'm in the process of becoming younger just now, as my half-Marathon performance demonstrates - and I do sometimes listen to the right music, though the journey back through time often disappoints, falling short of the uplifting experience I hope for.

The expression derives (according to impeccable sources such as Wiktionary) from Humphrey Bogart's tendency to keep a cigarette between his lips rather than taking drags and removing it in between, apparently to avoid continuity problems. In the sixties it came to mean failing to pass on a joint as promptly as good manners dictated (see Don't Bogart That Joint, by Lawrence Wagner (lyrics) and Elliot Ingber (music), the original version of which appeared on the soundtrack of "Easy Rider" performed by Fraternity Of Man, subsequently covered by Little Feat) and from that it has developed the meaning of stealing - perhaps appropriating is a better word, though the Oxford English Dictionary, in a surprisingly lengthy entry, does give "steal".

As for Doonesbury - the usage is not in the strip (though I bet it's there somewhere, in the 40 year old archive) but in the answer to a FAQ on the website - appropriate, since the question is about that memorable character from the strip, Mr Jay, an  anthropomorphic joint. The answer provides a (broken) link to a cartoon in which he features, with the plea: " Just don't bogart the strip."

With the connotations of wrongful appropriation, greed, and sharing, this is a much more complex notion than that of theft, and therefore a perfect expression to apply to what people intend when they speak of intellectual property theft. I'll be writing a definition shortly, and cross-posting this to the Dictionary of Intellectual Property Law blawg in the meantime.

1 comment:

Bob Cumbow said...

Innocent in the '60s--and innocent of movies as well! But as for "intellectual property theft" (and its first cousin, "identity theft"), I wonder why the law and policy world has carefully developed the word and concept "infringement," only to turn around and sloppily describe these practices as "theft"? It drives me crazy when the movie and music industry put out earnest public service announcements reminding the public that "illegal downloading is stealing." Well, no, it isn't.


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