Hey — take off that Mongols tattoo

As many people know, infamous Chicago crime boss Al Capone was ultimately brought to justice not because of all the bootlegging, murder and fraud he engaged in but because of a tax-evasion charge. Now the U.S. government is trying a similar tactic in its fight against a criminal biker gang called The Mongols: federal prosecutors say they want the courts to award them the rights to the gang’s name, and any imagery associated with it.

That way, federal authorities say, they could outlaw the gang in part by preventing them from using the name and imagery, and by seizing property and assets that carry the name or insignia — including clubhouses, motorcycles and even gang members’ clothing. This would allow any police officer “who sees a Mongol wearing this patch … to stop that gang member and literally take the jacket right off his back,” U.S. Attorney Thomas O’Brien told Reuters. (I wonder what they would do to this guy, who has the insignia tattooed on the back of his head).

This appears to be the first time that the police or the U.S. Attorney’s office have gone after a bike gang or any other criminal organization based on illegal use of intellectual property. Much like the Hell’s Angels and other popular outfits, the Mongols registered their name and their “patch” or insignia — a ponytailed character resembling Genghis Khan — as a legal trademark so that they could control the use of it.

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RIP: A remix manifesto

Filmmaker Brett Gaylor has created what he calls an “open-source documentary” called RIP: A Remix Manifesto. It’s about the importance of mashups and the remix culture, and includes interviews with and footage of mashup DJ Gregg “Girl Talk” Gillis (and his parents, as far as I can tell from the clip), as well as Cory Doctorow, copyright expert Lawrence Lessig and Jammie Thomas, the mother who became a kind of sacrificial lamb in the record industry’s war on peer-to-peer downloading. In the spirit of the movie’s subject, the filmmaker has made some of his footage available for others to remix as they wish. The film premieres in Montreal this week. Hat tip to the CBC’s Jesse Brown for the link.

McCain and the DMCA: Extreme irony alert

It’s almost too good (or bad) to be believed: John McCain, the U.S. presidential candidate who as a senator supported the draconian rules included in Digital Millennium Copyright Act, now finds himself begging YouTube to stop removing his campaign’s video clips. YouTube has been taking them down because they contain excerpts from news broadcasts, and broadcasters are claiming that is copyright infringement. The McCain campaign is put in the uncomfortable position of arguing that those excerpts are “fair use,” and that YouTube should knock it off.

YouTube has responded to the McCain campaign (while stifling a chuckle, perhaps?) that it can’t play favourites just because the senator is in the midst of an election campaign, and that while Mr. McCain no doubt thinks his clips are of extra importance, “there is a lot of other content on our global site that our users around the world find to be equally important.” Then comes the real zinger: YouTube’s general counsel Zahavah Levine says that: “We hope that as a content uploader, you have gained a sense of some of the challenges we face everyday in operating YouTube.” Bam.

New Zealand: Three strikes and no Internet

BoingBoing has a link to a blog post by a New Zealander who sat in on a meeting with New Zealand officials, a meeting ostensibly about getting their input on the country’s proposed copyright legislation, and in particular a so-called “three strikes” rule, which would force Internet service providers to cut off users after warning them twice about copyright infringing behaviour. But as it turns out, the minister wasn’t there to hear any input about why such a rule is either a) wrong, b) stupid or c) wrong — she was there to chew out critics for even suggesting any such thing, and to tell them the law is going through regardless.

She began by strongly expressing her anger that we had complained to her at this stage in the proceedings. None of us, she said, had been to see her before this on this topic. When we protested that we had worked with the Select Committee, which had removed this provision – and balanced it with one which made licence holders liable for false accusations – she said that this was completely inappropriate of the Select Committee, because Cabinet had already decided this was going ahead.

When the group of which Colin Jackson was a part tried to protest that it wasn’t easy to tell for sure whether people were engaging in copyright infringement, the minister said it worked for child pornography; when her critics pointed out that child pornography was a federal crime and copyright infringement was a civil matter, she said that was irrelevant; when they said that removing people’s Internet access was all out of proportion with the alleged offense, she said that New Zealand’s cultural industries were being decimated and something had to be done.

As bad as Canada’s Bill C-61 is — and as Michael Geist continues to point out, it is pretty bad — it’s not nearly as bad as that. Yet.

Your intellectual property tastes delicious

This has to be my favourite intellectual property dispute ever: according to reports from a variety of sources, including Associated Press and Haaretz, a group known as the Association of Lebanese Industrialists is planning to file a lawsuit against the state of Israel for “stealing” traditional Lebanese delicacies such as hummus (which is spelled about seven different ways) as well as baba gannouj, falafels and tabouleh.

As it turns out, of course, Lebanon doesn’t actually own the trademark to such dishes, but the head of the ALI says he’s planning to file something, and once he gets the rights he’s going to sue someone (it’s not clear who). The precedent, apparently, is the case that Greece launched to get the exclusive EU rights to the term “feta” cheese.

The only wrinkle in the Lebanese plan? A number of other groups — including the Palestinians — claim they invented the dishes Lebanon wants to trademark (The Guardian says that tabouleh was developed in Ottoman Syria, including what is now Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan). Can’t they all just sit down and talk this one over?