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Saturday, February 05, 2005

DRM Thinking Strikes Again: Model Kit Industry R.I.P.







Remember those model airplane kits you put together as a child? Thanks to the legal thinking that flows from (or as) Digital Rights Management, they are now, it seems, a thing of the past.

For over half a century, kits have been sold that enable military history buffs to assemble scale models of military ships, aircraft and vehicles. But that era is coming to an end, as the manufacturers of the original equipment, especially aircraft, are demanding high royalties (up to $40 per kit) from the kit makers. Since most of these kits sell in small quantities (10-20,000) and are priced at $15-30 (for plastic kits, wooden ones are about twice as much), tacking on the royalty just prices the kit out of the market. Popular land vehicles, which would sell a lot of kits, are missing as well. The new U.S. Army Stryker armored vehicles are not available because of royalty requirements. Even World War II aircraft kits are being hit with royalty demands.

These royalty demands grew out of the idea that corporations should maximize 'intellectual property' income. Models of a companys products are considered the intellectual property of the owner of a vehicle design. Some intellectual property lawyers have pointed out that many of these demands are on weak legal ground, but the kit manufacturers are often small companies that cannot afford years of litigation to settle this contention. In the past, the model kits were considered free advertising, and good public relations, by the defense firms. The kit manufacturers comprise a small industry, and the aircraft manufacturers will probably not even notice if they put many of the model vendors out of business. Some model companies will survive by only selling models of older (like World War I), or otherwise “no royalty” items (Nazi German aircraft) and ships. But the aircraft were always the bulk of sales, and their loss will cripple many of the kit makers. Some of the vehicle manufacturers have noted the problem, and have lowered their demands to a more reasonable level (a few percent of the wholesale price of the kits). Link. Via Overlawyered.


Is it too much of a stretch to suggest that such increasingly narrow assertion of "intellectual property rights" could threaten the web itself? Here's what I mean:
The linking policies carried by many corporate sites - wherein one must secure permission before linking to a company's site - have some intent and some meaning. The intent is to establish that such requirements are legitimate, and stronger than any claim to fair use. The meaning, if these companies are successful in their efforts, could very well be that the substance of fair use doctrine is effectively gutted. The web depends for its webness on linking - something that often involves fair use of trade names; and such linking could be construed as somehow incorporating protected material into one's own site. I know that may sound strange - and of course the case at hand (commercial model kits) has nothing to do with fair use; but, these days, "strange" seems often to be no barrier to implementation.

In any event, this is a disturbing trend, and not good news for anyone, not even corporations - who at this point clearly have too much lawyer, not enough brains.TM


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