Saturday, September 08, 2007

THAT'S HOT! OK Paris, now sue me.

In my last post I said that there are some words (in particular the post was about the use of the 'n' word) that should never be used. In the last paragraph though I linked to a post I did last January opposing an attempt to make it illegal.

That is because however I may feel about the language, I don't believe that anyone has the right to wall off the lexicography. And that goes not only for reasons of my opposition to censorship based on the first amendment, but also the belief that no one should be able to wall off any commonly used phrase just to make a buck, or because they think they are so special that no one should be able to use it.

And that is where I find that I side with the Hallmark Greeting Card company, which is now being sued by Paris Hilton.

The issue is a card parodying Paris, in which they use her patented phrase, "That's hot." No, I don't mean just patented in the sense that say Donald Trump is associated with "You're fired" or the late Harry Caray was associated with, "Holy Cow." I mean, 'patented.' You see, Paris apparently took out a trademark last February on the phrase, "That's hot." Meaning that (at least as she sees it) if anyone (such as Hallmark) uses the phrase, particularly in the context of anything having to do with Paris, they either have to pay her or desist from using those words. I guess what with all that partying and her stint in jail, she doesn't have enough to do besides suing anyone who says, 'that's hot.'

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not against trademarks, patents or copyrights. They are necessary and protect legitimate intellectual and business property rights. My only beef is frankly the cost-- I've personally invented at least two things which would likely be profitable, but not being already wealthy I decided that the (at least a few years ago) $7,000 patent fee and scads of paperwork wasn't worth it for things which I'd then need to find a marketer for before I could see if they sold. But as far as trademarks are concerned, they do protect legitimate businesses from people who would try to cash in on their names or products and in the process steal business, compete unfairly and possibly damage the reputation of the legitimate trademark holders. For example, to cite where Paris' fortune came from, if I ever decide to open a hotel, I cannot call it the 'Hilton Hotel,' because that name has been taken and Conrad Hilton* spent a lifetime building it into an internationally respected name, and his heirs and successors have continued to operate it in a way that speaks to certain standards and beliefs. I would simply have to choose some other name.

But a catchword, especially one that a lot of people use (honestly, does anyone think that Paris was the one to come up with the phrase, 'That's hot' or even the one to popularize it? I expect that people said, 'that's hot' a long time before Paris ever did) just isn't something that anyone can or should have the right to segregate away from the rest of the language into their own private little room.

It is hard to see how Paris can claim that she is being harmed by the Hallmark Company either. They are making fun of her in the card. Parody is recognized as a protected form of expression, and besides that-- well if I had a nickel for everytime someone has made Paris Hilton the butt of a joke...

Ironically, Hallmark, which does have a trademark, has proprietary rights to the card and the images and text on it (taken as a whole). But for Paris to claim that they should be paying her for saying, 'that's hot' in a card which is poking fun at her shows that whatever Paris claims to have learned about reality from jail, it is only a claim. Like Leona Helmsley, she still thinks that there are some things that she only has the right to. So Paris, I'm telling ya, 'That's hot!' Now sue me too.

*--As a matter of fact, I've eaten at the small cafe known as the Owl (whose owners have since built a monstrosity of a building by the same name in Albuquerque) in the hamlet of San Antonio, New Mexico where the bar was the very same bar that Conrad Hilton served drinks behind at the age of eight when he was working in his father's saloon. Before I met my wife, she lived in a house just a couple of hundred yards from that small hole-in-the-wall (but dang, the green chili cheeseburgers....) I honestly doubt if Paris Hilton has ever been there-- too small, too isolated, too out of the way. But maybe she should go there. I'm sure that in the many long hours that young Conrad served drinks to customers behind the bar (of course that would be illegal today, but in those days....) he learned a few things about hard work, integrity and customer service.

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