Monday, February 10, 2003

Real Naive. Real Idealistic. Real Discouraged.

Well, I guess, in a way, I lost my Internet virginity today. It was my first tangle with the dreaded "intellectual property" rights, and I lost. Turns out you can't say the words "real mom"™ on the Web, or at least you can't say them on T-shirts, as I had in my Mothers with Attitude store. "Real Mom,"™ it turns out, is trademarked to the owner of this site, who politely but firmly told me to cease and desist using that phrase. She also apparently told Cafepress, where my store resides, and they shut the shops with those products down and sent me a "Thou shalt not steal intellectual property" e-mail in the blink of an eye. All of which leaves me feeling angry, frustrated, bewildered, maligned, defensive ... and silly, too, because no one much was buying those shirts, and I wasn't pricing for a profit anyway, and really, who cares? They're no great loss.

But when I thought of them, anyway, they were mine. I had an idea to do it, and although the trademark owner legitimately feels that she owns those words and has worked hard to attach them to herself, I'd never heard of her or that trademark when I had the idea. They were just two common words waiting to be set on a shirt. How is it that common words can be owned? The Internet makes this all so much more confusing because it is now so terribly easy to put your words in very public places, and then so very easy for people to find those words and find fault with them. There was a time when I would have thought that putting those words on a shirt was a fun idea for an adoptive parent, and I would have drawn them on a piece of paper and gone down to the transfer shop and made me up a shirt. No one would likely have challenged my right to do that. Now, though, I can set up a whole store, for free, with the click of a button, and suddenly I'm a trademark violator.

The whole thing has me feeling very paranoid. Should I shut down the rest of my little store, just in case? Is my Web site safe? Could someone trademark the words "Parenting Isn't Pretty"? "Mothers with Attitude"? What if somebody trademarks my name? Do I actually intellectually own anything? Maybe I should just pull all my Internet plugs and go hide somewhere where I can't break any laws.

I know this sort of thing happens all the time, and will probably happen to me again. I've been thinking about another site that I like very much, enormously more successful than my own, that had to completely change its name and url and everything because of a similar situation, and that was exponentially more of a headache for them than losing a non-paying store is to me. It's the nature of the beast, I guess. But somehow, I'm feeling a little less joy in free expression tonight.

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