Intellectual-property law and cultural-property law are complex, esoteric, and changing fast. The inventions, creations, and traditions they are intended to protect can also be fascinating. However, as laws go, they aren’t society’s big, fundamental “heavy hitters;” they won’t stop humanity from fouling its own nest beyond habitability, or prevent murder, torture, and mayhem, or keep children safe. Some of the inventions, creations, and traditions they encompass might advance those goals, but, realistically, some of them might do the opposite.
Many of these laws are about money. I’m not implying that money isn’t important – just ask anyone who doesn’t have any – and I certainly endeavor to guard my clients’ money like an obsessive-compulsive pit bull. Money might not, however, be weighable on the same scale with life, death, or physical and mental health. Nevertheless, intellectual and cultural property law can touch issues, such as trade and food security, that can determine the survival of individuals and communities.
Other laws in this area are about preserving and encouraging things that we value once our basic needs have been met: the sciences, the arts, the past, and safeguards for the future. These are things whose presence can make life sweeter, but that we might be lulled into taking for granted until faced with their loss.
Another reason to write (and read) about these laws, besides the intellectual challenge and aesthetic subject matter, is that some of them have a way of dropping suddenly into our daily lives like a big hairy spider out of the bathroom exhaust fan. Have your kids downloaded any music today? Did you use a laser pointer to play with your cat? Do you have a made-in-Taiwan dreamcatcher hanging from your rear-view mirror that was sold to you as “Indian art”? (Note: Dreamcatchers are for filtering your dreams while you’re SLEEPING, so people who seem to need them while DRIVING make me a little nervous : ) ). Do you drink “champagne” that didn’t come from the Champagne region of France? Did you pick up any antique artifacts on your trip abroad? Did you talk about how carefully you wrapped them for the trip home, sealing the package with “scotch tape” that was not made by 3M Corp. (TM)? Were your hiking or skiing plans derailed because the site was closed for the local Feast of the Fiery-Winged Buffalo, or some such incomprehensible thing – or, alternatively, was your sacred religious ceremony disrupted by gaggles of chattering, camera-snapping looky-loos in neon windbreakers?
Beginning to study law in midlife was a very rude awakening for me at first; suddenly, the legal “bullets” I’d obliviously dodged every day of my life became frighteningly visible! You, too, may become uneasy if you learn here about a law that someone you know might be breaking unintentionally. You may wonder what else is lurking in the statute books, a trap for the unwary. Bear with me; somewhere between blissful-but-risky ignorance and paralyzed paranoia is the ability to act sensibly on reliable information. That’s what I aspire to bring you, dear reader. Let’s go!