Rights and responsibilities

Robert Anson Heinlein wrote (in “Starship Troopers”, I believe) that rights come with responsibilities. He was a crazy ol’ libertarian, but I like the idea that people have to consider proper use of their inalienable rights and not just go exercising them at will.

Which is a long-winded way for me to link to the letter that an executive vice-president of the National Geographic Society wrote to the publisher of the Portland Mercury.

The letter addresses the “borrowing” of the look of National Geographic magazine for the local paper a few weeks back, right down to the familiar yellow border. The Merc’s editor, Wm. Stephen Humphrey, saw the letter and figured the local paper was in for a lawsuit.

Turns out, no lawsuit.

Seems that the folks at National Geographic are advanced lifeforms, and realize that copyright laws aren’t there to squelch all forms of creativity – like parody, for example:

Dear Editor Humphrey:

Your October 30, 2008 edition of Mercury Geographic has been brought to our attention. I hope you are not surprised as National Geographic has a 120-year-old record and responsibility to cover the world and everything that is in it.

Our first instinct in such circumstances is to issue a cease-and-desist letter to prevent any unauthorized use of our valued trademarks and trade dress, as well as various copyrighted material.

We recognize, however, that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and that your mimic of our recognized look for your “Halloween Dress-Up Issue” was not malicious appropriation, but in good fun.

The letter then devolves into a tit-for-tat sales pitch for the Mercury to encourage their readers to resubscribe to the National Geographic, which Humphreys faithfully does in the above-linked blog post.

Awesome. So much better than going in with lawyers blazing, isn’t it? They had a right to their trademark… and they exercised it thoughtfully. One might even say, “responsibly”. Good for them!

I really want to make a connection between the stereotypical “naked native boobies” found in old Nat’l Geos and the porn ads in the back of the Merc, but the exact connection escapes me.