A lawsuit against LeVar Burton has been settled. Vulture (via Book Riot) tells us he can now say “but you don’t have to take my word for it” whenever he wants to. The catch is that this phrase is apparently a catchphrase of Reading Rainbow, a TV show for which he was a long-time presenter. WNED in Buffalo got upset when Mr Burton used the phrase in his podcast LeVar Burton Reads, and sued for theft and extortion on account of his repeated use of a catchphrase which he’d been using on-air for over 20 years on their program but didn’t technically own. Can one be said to own a group of words? Sounds ludicrous in principle but of course if the phrase is trademarked that can indeed be the case. I assume that this case stopped because the phrase isn’t actually protected — nevertheless I have cautiously tagged it ™ in my title!

So look out: watch what you are saying. Who knows whether you are uttering protected phrases or not? It always seems way off from the true purpose of copyright when people try to restrict the use of what look like perfectly uncontroversial phrases. A bit like patenting a gene. Intellectual property is a slippery concept and we’d probably all benefit from it’s being binned. Now, I could try to register “intellectual property” as a trademark, but it would only be protected if I relentlessly sued anyone who used the words whenever they used them. That seems like a poor (and expensive) way to try erasing the words from the popular memory. If a trademark is constantly abused with impunity it effectively ceases to be a trademark. But you don’t have to take my word for it — you can look it up.