Letter to the Editor
Copyright Claims and Trademark Usage
I read with some interest your article about The Library Hotel in the December 2003 issue of Information Today. I agree that it was indeed a funny lawsuit on its face, but I don't really think that it is all that controversial. Mostly, the Dewey Decimal Classification system makes for good humor for the general public (librarians included).
I was disappointed that your article didn't make a distinction between the copyright claims and those involving trademark usage. You note that "Considering that the DDC is 130 years old, you would think the classification scheme is in the public domain." Indeed it's "[n]ot true" as you state, but for different reasons than you seem to imply.
The system itself may have passed into public domain for some purposes. Melvil Dewey certainly has no patent rights, and even in our post-Sonny Bono atmosphere, his original system has no chance of copyright protection. However, this is a trademark issue, and trademarks can last (potentially) forever. The importance of it being in use for 130 years is that it has been in use in interstate commerce, connected with products and services. …