The destructive, insiduous and sometimes amusing nature of intellectual property law

This is an attempt at detailing situations (not actual cases, but potential ones) where IP law is clearly lame.

Controlling how you play with your pet

The abstract from US patent #5443036, "Method of exercising a cat", by Kevin T. Amiss and Martin H. Abbott, filed 2 November 1993, issued 22 August 1995, says it all:

Abstract: A method for inducing cats to exercise consists of directing a beam of invisible light produced by a hand-held laser apparatus onto the floor or wall or other opaque surface in the vicinity of the cat, then moving the laser so as to cause the bright pattern of light to move in an irregular way fascinating to cats, and to any other animal with a chase instinct.

Unable to disseminate information in Public Service Announcements about domestic violence

As many of you know, I've often remarked that copyright law hinders creativity and progress, and abridges free expression. Normally when this happens, I either ignore the law or find a workaround. In this particular example, I did workaround the situation but I'm stating this to illustrate the destructive nature of copyright law.

It all started with this song about abusive relationships that I created. I wanted to sample a few seconds from the TV Public Service Announcement (PSA) by the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) that depicts a husband coming home to a cold dinner and he starts beating his wife. We hear this in the background while a child is watching and the ad ends with the caption: "children have to sit by and watch, what's your excuse?" I wanted to sample the woman crying.

While I could've argued for fair use with my sampling, I wanted to get permission from the FVPF. It wasn't that I desperately needed to use a sample from their particular ad (in fact, my workaround now is to create my own simulation which is just as effective), but I figured it could only help further the ad's message if I use it in the song (with appropriate credit, of course).

So I wrote the FVPF about this situation and they responded saying that even though they appreciate my efforts, I couldn't sample the ad because it violence copyright licensing agreements they have with other parties.

I'm writing this because I do feel there's something strongly unethical about a situation where copyright law is used to abridge the freedom of dissemination of information that can only help further a good cause (help end the domestic violence epidemic). I feel there's something wrong about a society that can support this viewpoint by legal force. On the one hand, the FVPF says everyone should be more active in preventing domestic violence (something I wholeheartedly agree with). Yet their licensing agreements prevent them from exercising the Public Service Announcements (PSAs) to their full potential.

I don't mean to be uncivil or speak negatively of the FVPF, but I do think the issues are bigger than either me or the FVPF and as I say above, I'm using this example to illustrate the insidious nature of copyright law. I am doing this in the hopes that the FVPF and other organisations will in the future take steps to ensure that any PSAs in the future will be free from such restrictions (like being placed in the public domain), thereby putting the words "Public Service" above any propreitary interests.

To make my position even more clear, the song I've created will be in the public domain, free of any copyright restrictions, and I encourage dissemination of the recording, the composition, and the message.

If you have any particular comments to make to me or the FVPF, please do so. I can be contacted at The FVPF is on the web at, and can be contacted by e-mail at, by phone at (415) 252-8900.

Free Music || Ram Samudrala ||