Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Grafting off the Taxpayer Dime

This is kind of specialized, but if you build plastic models or know someone who does, it has an interest. The nasty fact is, companies that used the taxpayer dime to design and build military airplanes and vehicles are now trying to collect for "intellectual property rights" from model companies, as Tom Cleaver points out in a great editorial over at Modeling Madness:

I first became personally aware of this when I was hired to do a project for Revell-Monogram back in 1999. This involved getting some information on airplanes, so I decided to go to the source - the aircraft manufacturers - and ask for their material. When I called Northrop-Grumman, I was referred to the Legal Department, where a not-so-friendly attorney launched into a long and not-so-friendly discussion of how it was that the hobby industry was stealing the intellectual property of the companies by making unlicensed models of their trademarked products. After a few minutes of this, I decided to bail out of the conversation by claiming ignorance and the fact that I was in no position to influence the policies of Revell-Monogram. The next call was to Boeing, where I was quickly referred to the “licensing administrator,” whose conversation was limited to informing me that the licensing fee for obtaining the information was one and a half percent of anticipated profits from the line of models the project involved. I used the same parachute I had used at Northrop-Grumman.

My next call was to the executive at Revell-Monogram who had hired me, to ask just what in hell was going on. I learned that since at least the mid-1990s, companies like Boeing and Northrop-Grumman have been attempting to impose licensing fees on model companies, for the privilege of making “representations” of their “trademarked intellectual property,” i.e., the airplanes they produced.
Companies like Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Sikorsky and others are demanding licensing and royalty payments for military aircraft replicas. Not only that, but several Air Forces are now asking for licensing payments to make decals of their insignias!

The model kit industry argues in response that military equipment, including ships, tanks, aircraft and the like have all been paid for by public funds, i.e. the taxes we pay the U.S. Government. Given that these aircraft makers would certainly not be making these subjects without a government contract and a guarantee of a sale for every piece they make, they are not “proprietary,” particularly since an aviation historian can cite instances where a company designed something in response to a government request for proposals, and then lost the production contract to another company without recompense or where more than one company built the product at government direction without any payments being made to the original company. While the companies who built “Flying Fortresses,” “Liberators,” “Mustangs,” “Hellcats,” etc., may well have had significant input into the choice of name, the name was in the end designated by the government entity purchasing the aircraft, so the names cannot be privately trademarked.

Sounds reasonable to me, but then I’m not some 20-something drone in the back of the law library of the legal department at Boeing, with a student loan debt of $100,000 and a desperate need to gain favorable notice from the employer by economically justifying my existence.

Amazing. I can kind of understand companies like Ford and GM getting a royalty for models of their cars - although you'd think they'd be smart enough to realize that a kid building a model of a Mustang GT is free advertising. But for companies that suck the government teat to build military vehicles and aircraft, it's just ridiculous to allow them to extort money like this, and it's definitely starting to damage the hobby.

Read the whole thing; Tom has some suggestions for action.


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