Free For All ©

September 15, 2000

The other day I picked up a bag of bagels. The words, "Mmm, they’re tasty!" were printed on the bag, followed by the (TM) symbol–which stands for trademark. The entire label–including, presumably, "Mmm, they’re tasty!" was copyrighted. I don’t understand intellectual property law, but based on some of the litigatory threats I’ve received because of my "offerings"(tm) I now owe the bagel company for use of its trademarked phrase "Mmm, they’re tasty." It’s bad enough that I’ve now made the mistake of typing the phrase and distributing it to a group of people three times now, but should the company decide to make me pay, they may want me to account for all the times in my life I’ve said, "Mmm, they’re tasty."

Am I overreacting? Maybe. But in 1997, summer campers were warned that they might have to pay for singing copyrighted songs around the campfire–or their camp would be sued. The legal pit bulls and their organization quickly backed down, but not before camp counselors had to slap their hands over the mouths of campers innocently singing "Puff the Magic Dragon". (Okay, admittedly, we didn’t sing "Puff the Magic Dragon" even when I was a summer camper, but there are an estimated four million copyrighted songs. There’s a good chance that someone owns the rights to "99 Bottles of Beer".)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for artists, writers, composers, and others making a living. Most of them work very hard and deserve compensation (and I’m not just saying that to avoid shooting myself in the financial foot). But there’s a difference between being compensated and getting greedy. Besides, advertising puts monetary value to everyday phrases, which devalues language and forces people like me to use high-falutin’ expressions such as "devalues language."

But I don’t think my small complaint will make any difference, so I’ll take the "If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em(c)" attitude. So I’ll be copyrighting and trademarking "Freethinkers Anonymous", and all variants thereof, including "free", "anon", "an", and sometimes "y". You can still use these words without fear of retribution, because copyrights and trademarks only apply to advertising firms and other large businesses. That’s why I’m not copyrighting the word "think". It’s too rarely used to be profitable.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

(Note: Normally I don’t forward true stories or news articles as offerings. This case seemed exceptional.-CW)

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) – Eighty years after he shinnied up a 15-foot flagpole to grab a souvenir, a former Olympic diving medalist handed back his ripped-off trinket – the original Olympic flag.

Hal Haig "Harry" Prieste, now 103 and confined to a wheelchair most of the time, said Monday (Sunday night EDT) that he took the flag as a dare at the 1920 Games in Antwerp, Belgium, and kept it in a suitcase. The flag is now regarded as the first to feature the five rings on a white background that have become the Olympic symbol.

Prieste only discovered its importance during an interview at a U.S. Olympic Committee awards dinner in 1997, when a reporter told him the original flag had gone missing and never been located.

"I thought I ain’t going to be around much longer – it’s no good in a suitcase," Prieste said after handing the folded linen flag to International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch at the start of the IOC’s annual meeting.

"It was no good to me – I won’t be able to hang it up in my room," said Prieste, who is considered the oldest living Olympic medalist. "People will think more of me for giving it away than keeping it."

IOC vice president Anita DeFrantz introduced Prieste to the session as a "living legend," adding that he had run in the Olympic torch relay at Atlanta in 1996 at the age of 100. At that age he was still doing push ups and had just quit ice skating.

He also was greeted by IOC member Jacques Rogge, a representative of Belgium, where the flag was snatched.

The flag is slightly discolored and is tattered along the edge where Prieste ripped it off the flagpole, but otherwise in good condition, the USOC said.

After the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, Prieste returned to California and embarked on an entertainment career, becoming one of the original Keystone Kops and appearing in 25 movies. He said Charlie Chaplin was a pal and that he was in the studio when the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy was formed.

He later moved to Broadway, working vaudeville before joining a circus as a comedian and skating in the Ice Follies.

Always the entertainer, Prieste, who is hard of hearing and going blind, ensured he upstaged the IOC meetings going on inside the Regent Hotel in downtown Sydney. Gaining some momentum after a slow start, the veteran showman managed to stand up from his wheelchair on occasions and hold court for a throng of reporters and TV cameras. And he didn’t want the curtain to come down when officials tried to usher the impromptu press conference outside.

"Where’s the TV camera gone," Prieste said as he was being relocated. He flew into Sydney late Sunday, two days after leaving his nursing home in Camden, N.J., and said he hopes to attend the opening ceremony Friday before departing Australia next week.

"I’m proud to be part of the ceremony," he said. "When I give (the flag) away, it makes me feel good, I made good use of the flag. You can’t be selfish about these things."

Carolyn La Maina, a long-time friend who accompanied Prieste Down Under, said the springboard bronze medalist from eight decades ago still enjoyed pizza and root beer and the occasional chocolate-coated cherry. "He’s in great shape really, but he’s losing his sight and he can’t hear very well, so his sense of taste gives him something to live for," she said.

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