When Joking About Intellectual Property Is No Laughing Matter

Over the years I’ve written about understanding what you own and what you don’t when it comes to one’s intellectual property (IP.) Today, most if not all of one’s IP can be found on a number of various social media sharing platforms. It is here that I have warned many against the all too familiar “Who cares, I just want to get it out there!” blasé attitude many have when it comes to their IP.

It’s one thing if you want to share content, like what you had to eat for dinner last night – It’s quite another when you want to promote as to sell a recipe to prepare that dinner.

One is truly social – the other is clearly a business. How you view each and treat each is what moves something from a pastime or “hobby” to a legitimate business. There are things you need to know, understand, and have the ability to control, as well as legally defend if necessary. If you don’t – you’re not “in business” regardless of how much money you may be making at any given time.

Building a business is completely different from building a “hobby” which can make a profit.

Some will think that last point is off-base, or at the least incorrect. Fair point, but let me express it this way: How many people have you met over your career that had a great “hobby” going on the side? A hobby that was doing so “great” that one day you heard they quit their steady gig to pursue the “hobby” full-time, only to hear not that far into the future they were out of the “hobby” business looking for a “steady gig” once more. It’s far too common of a story than those of a “hobby” that made it into a full-fledged business concern.

As I’ve iterated far too many times to count over the years, when it comes to business, building a business has specific metrics, measurements and other criteria that not only needs to be adhered to. It also demands that other distractions such as chasing “vanity metrics” without understanding what they truly represent as it pertains to making a net profit.

I have been absolutely shocked at how many people have approached me with absolute glee expressing they had something like “10,000 Likes” and when I respond, “Great! So what does that mean to your conversion rate as to a paying customer, any idea?” I then get an absolute blank face that morphs in slow motion into a look as if I just insulted their mother. It happens all the time, and I’m not trying to be caustic. I’m actually interested. That is – if we’re talking business. If we’re talking cat videos, I could care less. And if you don’t have any true grasp or understanding as to why you even pursued “likes” to begin with? You would be better off posting about the cats. That way, at the least, your “likes” could reach millions, that is if that was the intent to begin with.

One of the biggest peeves I’ve had is just how nonchalant many budding entrepreneurs are to giving away their IP on many of the various social networks. People sign up for certain platforms and sign away to “terms of service” without ever even glancing at it. Sure a lot of us do it in many circumstances. But when it’s for a business? You can’t. And if that means you can’t be on that platform because you could find yourself suddenly not owning what you believed was yours? You’ve got problems, maybe, big problems.

Have you signed away any of your rights on some if not all of the current “social” platforms? Do you even know? I’ll garner more than 75% of the readers that just read that line truly don’t. I know this because when I’m speaking with many of you at a forum, or discussion, and I ask a few probing questions the most common response is a blank stare.

So why do I bring this up. Well I do it because I want to highlight it’s not just you (that is if you are one with a blank stare) it also happens at very high levels. levels that many assume would have no ambiguity as to who owns what and so forth. Or, that no one would dare try to use IP everyone knows is owned solely by X,Y, or Z. Yet, as I alluded, that’s not the case.

Today’s example is none other than current “The Late Show™” host Stephen Colbert. It seems in a boost for ratings he, or his producers, decided it would be a great for him to morph into his character made famous on “The Colbert Report™”. However, there’s a problem.

Comedy Central™ claims all of it as their “IP” and can’t be used without their consent (or payment which is usually the case.) Which of course results in the lawyers and necessary paperwork being filed as to sue if needed. But there’s a twist which personally I find fascinating, and want to see just how it moves along for the precedent which it may, or may not, set has far wider implications than just “Colbert.” Here’s why…

Mr. Colbert is still using the persona only now claiming “He’s his identical twin” for the other “Colbert” he states is now dead. His past Comedy Central monologue “The Word™” has now been re-titled as “The Werd™” on his “The Late Show.” This move (all in my opinion) opens up a complete an utter can of worms into the entire IP area that the lawyers of all stripes are going to have both a field day, as well as pay-day once this all shakes out. For this thing is just beginning to rattle in my opinion, and has the possibility of shaking things off their IP pedestals in ways many never dreamed possible. Here are a few examples…

Try running any, and I do mean any commercial whether in print, radio, or TV using anything remotely looking or sounding like the NFL™ and the Superbowl™ let alone actually trying to use the actual words – you’ll be hit with a cease and desist order so fast your head will spin.

Try making a company where the logo is remotely close to looking like, oh say, Walmart™, Amazon™, Apple™ just to name a few. Then couple that with selling department store goods but call yourself WallyMart. or how about being an online retailer calling yourself Amazonian? Or tech gadgets as Applet? I hope you can see my point.

But there lies the question: Can “Colbert be the identical twin Colbert? If so, what a Pandora’s box this opens. It will be fascinating to watch because, as of this writing, this is the direction “The Late Show” intends to pursue. How this all shakes up is anyone’s guess.

Who actually owns the IP should never have been in question to begin with. It appears one side wasn’t as sure as they thought. But which one is now for the courts to decide.

© 2016 Mark St.Cyr