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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Filmosophy®

Today I received the 2007 Columbia University Press "New and Noteworthy" catalog for film studies. Page six was especially noteworthy. There, listed under film criticism, was Daniel Frampton's book, Filmosophy. I was drawn to it in part because of (no surprise here) my interest in the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and specifically his work on cinema, which the blurb for Frampton's book acknowledges explicitly. The volume sounds interesting enough, and I'd encourage folks to read it. What really struck me as noteworthy about the book, however, was this disclaimer following the blurb:
FILMOSOPHY® is a registered U. S. trademark owned by Valentin Stoilov (http://www.filmosophy.com) for educational services in the field of motion picture history, theory, and production. Mr. Stoilov is not the source or origin of this book and has not sponsored or endorsed its author.
Wow. I suppose I can understand, on one level, the desire not to confuse "products" in the marketplace. That, after all, is precisely what trademark law is supposed to do. But I get a bit twitchy when serviceable intellectual ideas become trademarked goods. I have a vague recollection of reading somewhere, perhaps in Jane Gaines' Contested Culture, that someone trademarked the term, "semiotics." So, if I now publish a book or an essay on semiotics (or "filmosophy," for that matter), does my work have to carry a disclaimer indicating that I'm not the legally-empowered trademark holder, but rather some interloper who's using this catchy-sounding brand/term to do some other, "competing" work?

What's even more disturbing, I suppose, are the ways in which intellectual property laws--or, really, misconceptions about how IP laws work--are insinuating themselves into and beginning to constrain scholarship in the humanities. This is occurring especially in the area of popular culture studies. Almost every academic book published on Harry Potter, for example, carries some sort of disclaimer to the effect of, "This book is not endorsed by J. K. Rowling, Warner Brothers, Scholastic, or Bloomsbury." Now, I understand that there's some remote possibility that an 11 year-old might confuse, say, Andrew Blake's The Irresistible Rise of Harry Potter, which is a tiny book published by the good leftist press, Verso, with the latest installment of the HP series. (Yeah, sure....) But since when have critical academic scholars sought "endorsement" from those about whom they write anyway? And why should we feel compelled all of a sudden to position our work as, essentially, an "unauthorized" pretender to the "real thing," or accept that some individual or corporation should be able to position our work as such?

8 comments:

Marcus O. Trade said...

Dear Prof. Striphas:

This communique is to inform you that the use of the word "Striphas" -- on your blog and in other public contexts -- infringes on "StripHas®": a registered trademark that belongs to my client, StripHas Unltd. StripHas Unltd. is a chain of entertainment venues based in Las Vegas that offers a unique blend of adult entertainment with standup comedy. There are currently 42 StripHas clubs in six states across the Southwest United States.

Pursuant to US trademark law, you are hereby ordered to immediately cease and desist from all use of the StripHas® mark (both on your blog and in other public contexts), to remove all existing instances of the StripHas® mark from your blog and other public contexts, and to refrain from any further use of the StripHas® mark on your blog or in any other public contexts. Failure to comply with this order will result in immediate legal action on behalf of my client to defend the integrity of their mark from further dilution.

Thank you for your immediate compliance with this order.

Sincerely,
Marcus O. Trade, Esq.

Ted Striphas said...

...I love it! Brilliant! Yes, indeed, "Striphas" must go!

Anonymous said...

-- Filmosophy: Guilt by Association --

Wait, wait... what is the link/analogy between "filmosophy," "semiotics" (or even Harry Potter?) again, Herr Professor? Other than your own indignation? I get a bit twitchy when I hear easy logical fallacies from a soap-box.

Are you claiming that these two terms are somehow equally "genericized" and widespread? Or equally in the "public domain..." When did you first hear/use the word filmosophy?" Are you equating Mr. Valentin Stoilov, and Mr. Daniel Frampton to Mr. John Locke? Fine scholarship there, sir...

You obviously know little about trademark law (or about public discourse). If you liked to read more, you would have known that the concept of the "genericized_trademark" (such as aspirin, laundromat,crock-pot and even bikini) fully addresses your concerns and is in place to protect the public interest.

As for the rest of your expertise which shines so brightly in this post, including the musings on Harry Potter (???). Please keep in mind that association fallacies are most often based on confusion and an appeal to emotion, professor...

So, if any neologism, name, label or trademark (even before becoming genericized) is, in your view, a serviceable intellectual idea and makes you upset, you should have very similar feelings about a lot of things: from Semiotext(e), Scientology, Microsoft, Starbucks or even Starbuck (Melville's character).

Do you actually teach college students using the same logic and methods? "All donkeys have ears; Aristotle has ears; therefore, Aristotle is a donkey..." No wonder you are "encouraging folks to read" a book which you probably haven't even read. A book which more thoughtful reviewers have implied is only smoke and mirrors, and neither film nor philosophy.

Did you read (the book) before writing (on the internet)? Shame on you, professor. My advice -- more reading and learning, less writing and preaching...

Siva said...

Wow. Mr. Anonymous sure is snotty! I'm not sure he has an argument in there. I am sure he is too cowardly to own up to his own claims and opinions.

But let's explore his points (or, fill in points where anonymous supplies only blustery indignation)

Dr. Striphas (tm). You should be ashamed of yourself for "writing on the Internet" without doing full and exhaustive research about a particular subject.

Don't you know that this medium of the "Web" and the particular platform you use, a "Weblog" is reserved only for the most carefully vetted and delicately expressed morsels of wisdom and poetry.

You are a disgrace to the legacy of Matthew Arnold, sir! After all, if Arnold were around today he would use this Google-owned service known as "Blogger."

Meanwhile, I suggest that we all cease and desist using the term "filmosophy." It's clearly such a valuable and almost sacred element of communication that we are not worthy of deploying it with sufficient care.

Plus, it's a really stupid-sounding word.

Mr. Anonymous has already taken you to task for teaching the good children of Indiana that Aristotle is a donkey. So I need not pile on. But do check out the Wikipedia entry on Aristotle next time you do your "Aristotle-is-a-donkey" lecture. You will discover there that Aristotle was in fact a man. And that as a man, Aristotle wrote that "man is a political animal." And then check out the Wikipedia entry on "donkey." You will find out that a donkey is an animal. But before you make that logical leap that takes you -- by the transitive property -- to that dangerous conclusion that all political animals are animals and all donkeys are animals therefore all political animals are donkeys ... and ... wait for it ... therefore, all men are donkeys ... and Aristotle is a man ... therefore ARISTOTLE IS A DONKEY ...

Wait. Where was I?

Oh yeah. What do you have against Starbucks, buddy?

Anonymous said...

hahaha... i agree with siva that we are political animals. the professor, like most progressive academic bloggers, is trying to teach "the children of indiana" some facile political lesson on trademarks and freedom (and "the man" taking our important colloquial words away from us...) he forgot to include global warming, which is also bad.

what would aristotle say about how common, colloquial and trademarkable the words σημειωτικός and φιλμοσοφία are is a whole different story.

however, the point about endorsing books you haven't read is important imho.

as stupid as the word filmosophy might be, wait till you see the rest of this ridiculous book... like "filmind" (i am not kidding). no one has trademarked that, thank god. the movies "think" and "feel" for themselves (again, i am not kidding...)

thanks for the recommendation, prof, but i'd much rather read my copyrighted harry potter over my trademarked starbucks...

bikini said...

funny! fyi, today i went to the laundromat to wash my bikini. i get a bit itchy when serviceable garments, such as my brassiere, begin to be constrained by dirt. i am happy to report that my attempts to clean up were successful. i was not opressed in any way by the ip police or corporate trademark holders. freedom is on the march.

Ted Striphas said...

How exciting to have such a lively and unexpected exchange ensue! You never really know as a blogger how your writing will impact your readers, if at all.

I suppose a brief commentary on my rhetorical style might be in order for those less familiar with it or with the ins-and-outs of argumentation. Sometimes (as in the “Filmosophy®” post) I use a device or technique called mise-en-abyme. Essentially this amounts to framing a central narrative (call it “y”) within a peripheral one (call it “x”) and then elaborating on “y” so as to illuminate something—indirectly, implicitly—about “x.” Mise-en-abyme is a vibrant strategy of linkage and enhancement that makes no particular claim to upholding formal logic’s icy solemnity. It’s success is judged best by the question, has “y” helped me to understand “x” a bit better, and vice-versa?

I’m inclined to agree with Siva in that “filmosophy®” is, at the end of the day, not a particularly compelling word or concept. It’s also, I’d say, an awkward and inelegant portmanteau that hardly rolls off the tongue. The purpose of my post, of course, wasn’t to champion the cause of “filmosophy®.” (And I don’t recall ever endorsing the Frampton book, but that’s another matter. . . .) Instead, it was to point to a constellation of intellectual property-related efforts whose net effect is to constrain academic and non-academic criticism in ways that are, to greater and lesser degrees, unprecedented.

Still, for whatever it’s worth, the term “filmosophy®” probably would enjoy a richer life and circulation were it not trademarked. As its stands, it’s likely to refer for the duration of the mark to nothing more and nothing less than an educational website—and, I suppose, Frampton’s disclaimed book. Freeing the term from trademark-related constraints might actually result in its having some significant uptake—at the “abhorrent” cost of its dilution. But as it stands, it’s more likely to fade into obscurity.

Valentin S. said...

Wow! This is VERY interesting. Hello, I am Valentin, the filmosophy trademark owner. Also, I am the the first person who used this neologism, in an obscure paper, a long time ago, when I was a young student. I have identified myself and some of my work with the trademark filmosophy ever since.

Other than the quoted book's author and a young talented youtuber from Michigan recently, nobody else has claimed the need to use the word anywhere. Nor has anybody needed this neologism as some invaluable generic term in the public domain.

Obviously, for me, the quoted disclaimer is a small victory of one individual over a large publishing press and over the pretentious, automatic, self-congratulatory academic production of "new and noteworthy" labels and ideas that are neither new, nor noteworthy.

The way I see it is very different -- the book and its cover, the title without subtitle, ad campaigns, slogans ("filmolsophy is...", "a radical manifesto...") and the pretentious premise were, in fact, attempting to appropriate and privatize my own name and a word, previously associated with me. To shape its meaning and definition, and sell books, without courtesy acknowledgments or respect for "the little guy..."

As for the fact that the word is awkward and doomed to relative obscurity -- that's probably true and it is fine with me. This is precisely what makes a trademark proprietary and "fanciful" in legalese. As long as it continues to identify me and what I do and not Columbia University, some pretentious "continental" British BS, or some empty new-age regurgitation of Deleuze, I am happy. Probably as happy as you are that Striphas is NOT a brothel in Las Vegas.

As everyone here implied, a title is as good as what it is attached to and what it identifies. There are enough good words to go around. And I agree that we should have the means to take the trademarks we need for public use, when they become generic.