Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Synchronicity - Copyright isn't quite like that

     Over this weekend, I watched a movie titled Synchronicity.  It was a bit of a mind bender, but one bit of dialog about "copyright" left me scratching my head.

     Here is some background.  The protagonist, Jim Beale, needs radioactive materials to power his experimental wormhole machine.  He also needs to send a specific genetically engineered plant through a wormhole to a point in time five days earlier.  When he approaches Klaus Meisner, the sponsor of his research, about the radioactive materials, Klaus tells him:
"You need tangible proof that your prototype works. Evidence that you've actually created a traversable wormhole, and to do that you need to be able to send the original specimen [of the genetically engineered plant] which is registered as KMC-014 back through to the other side.

Now it just so happens that I own all copyrights -- commercial and private -- for all KMC products.

Which means... this is your lucky day.  I'm willing to sell to you those rights for let's say 50% of your operation."
Assuming we are talking about current US law, this monologue left me scratching their head.

     First, you cannot copyright a plant because a plant is not copyrightable subject matter. 17 USC 102(a).

     Second, even if you could copyright a plant, then the first sale doctrine would limit the rights of the copyright owner where there is a transfer of title. In the movie, Klaus gifted the plant to Abby, who then gave it to Jim. Walt Disney Prods. v. Basmajian, 600 F. Supp. 439, 442 (S.D.N.Y. 1984) (first sale doctrine applied for goods given as a gift).  Thus, Jim could do whatever he wanted with the gifted plant (other than make additional copies).

     Finally, even patent law doesn't quite fit the situation. Patent law prohibits others from making, using or selling a patented invention. Sending a patented plant through a wormhole to an earlier time is not something that patent law would prohibit.

- Henry Park

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