November 13, 2002  ·  Lessig

So there’s this amazing site (for opera fans at least) called MetManiac, which before the lawyers found it, collected lists of Met opera performances from the beginning of the Met. Non-commercial, pure hobby, an extraordinary historical resource, this was the passion of a fan. If you follow the link, though, you’ll see the Met lawyers have demanded the site be shut down. (Shhh, but if you follow Brewster’s link, you can see what the page was. Don’t tell the lawyers, however, as they’ll shut that down too.)

Can anyone explain what sense it makes that this fan site, which collects historical facts about an important part of our culture, can be banned? I know the lawyers say “the law makes us do it” — that trademark law, etc., requires that they police the way other people use their name. But what possible sense does such a law make. And at a time when opera around the world is struggling for resources to build an audience, what possible sense does it make to begin to attack your fans?

  • Verdi

    This is OUTRAGEOUS. People should write Volpe and complain.

  • http://timestream.net/nonsequitur Sam

    Well, it worked for Fox vis-a-vis The Simpsons. Not that Homer is struggling with the same popularity problems that opera has, but still, it’s a page straight out of the Fox playbook.

  • http://www.scripting.com Dave Winer

    The NY Mets did the same thing with their fan sites.

  • http://www.dadchronicles.blogspot.com Dean

    Speaking as a professional marketing manager, and someone who has been messing around on the ‘net for ages, the Met and their lawyers are insane! Developing and building such a site is an expensive, time-consuming proposition. If they wanted to build it themselves it would run them thousands of dollars easily – and wouldn’t be as good. Why shut it down? Sponsor it, co-opt it, drive traffic to it, feed it and it will feed you…are they deranged, stupid or just petty? This is a great resource, throwing it away only hurts themselves.

    Is it possible to add “common-sense provision” to existing copyright law?

  • Dennis Moser

    I didn’t believe this until I went to the “archived” version of the site. That 70 years of history has been put together by an individual out their love of an institution is a profound thing worthy of support, not the cutting off of air supply.

    Apparently, there is no such things as “common sense” when it comes to the use of a so-called trademark law. While the name “Metropolitan Opera” might be a trademark, there is nothing legally to prevent me from saying the words as many times as I wish on a webpage.It saddens me no end to see that MetManiac has felt obliged to comply with the outrageous demands of the New York Opera Company. I wish that they had the wherewithal to fight this.

    I truly fear that this is simply another episode of many more to come. And thus, our history disappears…

  • http://michaeljennings.blogspot.com Michael Jennings

    Surely to protect the trademarks, all you have to do is ask the owner of the side to use capital letters where appopriate and perhaps put up a notice saying that ” is a registered trademark which is the property of . This site has is independent of them.” If this is not the case, why is it not the case?

  • http://jrobb.userland.com John Robb

    There is a way around this: a desktop website that runs on a local CMS (his site is data driven and not just a collection of static pages). The “package” of functionality could be distributed via P2P. If there is damage, route around it.

  • button

    “Only an automaton!”

    Dean is right.

    Larry Lawyer, do you think they could negotiate a stay of execution if they change the name of the site to avoid copyright infringement?

    Maybe Opera could commit suicide more effectively with poison, a dagger, garotte, cannon ball or elephant from Aida sitting on them. Ya think? Nah!

  • http://kairosnews.org cel4145

    At least actions such as may help educate the public that enforcement of copyright–as copyright is currently legislated–is in many cases more immoral than the act of infringement.

  • Brian Yoder

    This is a pervasive problem. All kinds of institutions, groups, and businesses (or more specifically their lawyers) are progressively making it illegal to publish information ABOUT them via various trademark and copyright laws. Who exactly thinks this is a smart idea (besides the lawyers who are paid to enact such nonsense I mean)? My art site occasionally gets similar threatening letters because it mentions artists, galleries, and museums. Very strange and very sad.

    –Brian

  • Leonardo

    Quite simple: don’t use the name of the place. Refer to “an Opera house in Manhattan” or something. But the list of presentations is history, everyone should be able to register it.

  • Gordon

    Personally I like the first suggestion. It reminds me of Gary Larson’s story regarding the Jane Goodall cartoon. (Two chimps in a tree: one says to the other while picking something off his back, “Another blonde hair, you’ve been hanging around that Jane Goodall tramp again!” or something like that. The Jane Goodall Institute either threatened to sue, or did sue. Eventually, either the lady herself or someone else with a brain, heard about the whole debacle and immediately stopped the suit. The end result? They paid Larson for the rights to print his cartoon on THEIR t-shirts and posters! A wonderful about-face!!

  • Dan

    The trademark dilution issue may be real, “forcing” the opera houses’ hands just as Disney is forced to go after day care facilities that use their characters on the walls without permission (or maybe they are just evil?). But it would seem some sort of extended protections of the sort already granted to news agencies would make sense. Why should a non-commercial use of that trademark really constitute dilution? Granted, it becomes more common language if that mark is used, say, for any opera, but using the name of the opera house in reference to that opera house is hardly dilution; if anything, it is the opposite.

    Refering to that specific opera house only with that name would appear to strengthen the specificity of that trademark (or whatever the legal term would be).

    So I’m not even sure how this constitutes trademark dilution if it is allowed to continue, regardless of whether, practically, it is stupid for the lawyers to go after fans.

  • http://www.metmaniac.com Brian Heller

    “To be or not to be” isn’t the question anymore. By whatever means, this site is back by popular demand.