LGBT History Month is here!

February 4, 2021, By

February is LGBT History Month. It was started in the US in 1994 and today it is observed as a celebration of LGBT people and a commemoration of the history of gay rights and related civil rights movements in various countries around the world.

So, in that vein, here are some LGBT people who made their mark on the world, and in particular the creative industries and wonderful world of IP. Because that’s what we’re obsessed with at Briffa!

Art

Andy Warhol was an American artist whose legacy is an impossibly vast collection of films, artworks, books, sculptures and much, much more. Through his creative work in the 60s, 70s and 80s, he revealed a world that was previously largely unknown.

Fun IP Fact: In 1987, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts took ownership of all the copyright works and trade marks that were in his possession at the time of his death and those IP assets continue to be commercialised through licensing today.

Literature

Hard to pick just one, so here are three favourites instead: Oscar Wilde was an Irish novelist and playwright who published a large catalogue of literary works including the Picture of Dorian Gray and the Importance of Being Earnest; Virginia Woolf was a British writer who wrote various novels, essays and short stories and helped set up the Hogarth Press publishers; and Amistead Maupin is an American novelist who wrote Tales of the City, a brilliant story of life in San Francisco starting in the late 70s, through the AIDS crisis, up until the noughties.

Fun IP Fact: A photograph of Oscar Wilde, taken by Napoleon Sarony in the 1880s was the subject of a copyright dispute that went all the way to the US Supreme Court and, in a decision that has been valuable to photographers and copyright owners ever since, the Court confirmed that Sarony’s photograph did indeed have copyright protection, and that a photograph was a work of art and the product of the photographer’s intellectual invention – no different in nature from a novel.

Music

Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara in 1946) was the frontman for the legendary rock band Queen. Iconic songs like Bohemian Rhapsody and Don’t Stop Me Now were written by Freddie and were part of the fabric of the rock music scene in the 70s and 80s.

Fun IP Fact: The Queen logo consists of the band member’s star signs: two Leos, one Virgo and one Cancer (for Roger, John, Freddie and Brian respectively). The logo was designed by Freddie, so remember to keep records of your creative works and register your logos as trade marks people – because you never know, something you design might become one of the most recognisable logos in the world!

Science/Tech

Alan Turing basically saved the world. He was a gifted mathematician and scientist, the inventor of modern computing and artificial intelligence, and was a leading code breaker at Bletchley Park whose work was instrumental to the Allied Forces winning WW2.

Fun IP Fact: The Alan Turing Institute is the national institute for data science and artificial intelligence, with headquarters at the British Library. It’s is to make great leaps in data science and artificial intelligence research in order to change the world for the better (not really an IP fact, but the Institute is worth a visit).

TV/Movies

Hard to pick just one here also, so again three favourites instead: George Takei is a Japanese American actor best known for playing Lieutenant Sulu in Star Trek; Lily Tomlin is an American actor, singer and stand-up comic who has been on stage and screen since the 60s and is still going today (Netflix’s Grace and Frankie is essential viewing); and Laverne Cox is an actor and trans rights activist who appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 2014 and appeared in Netflix’s cult drama Orange is the New Black (also on Netflix, also essential viewing).

Fun IP Fact: Axanar is a film set in the Star Trek universe which tells the back story of a character who appeared the original Star Trek series. It is notable because it is a work of ‘fan fiction’ (i.e. completely unauthorised by Paramount Pictures or any of the other IP owning entities connected to the official Star Trek franchise). Fan fiction is fiction about characters or settings from an original work of fiction, but created by fans of the work rather than the creator. Therefore, works of fan fiction, like Axanar, have given rise to numerous cases probing the parameters of copyright protection and the fair use. In the Anaxar case, the court held that, even if a particular individual element of the original work is not protected by copyright (e.g. the Federation, the shape of the ships, uniforms, the Star Fleet logo, fictional alien races, etc.), the accumulation and selection of these elements demonstrated enough copying by Axanar to give rise to a viable claim for copyright infringement.

Drag!

Last but not least, Ru Paul Charles is probably the world’s most famous drag queen and has become a household name after what feels like a bazillion series of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. But, more than that, Ru Paul is the shrewd owner of a majorly successful brand and media empire, who could give lessons on how to make money from your IP. The Ru Paul trade mark and brand has been put on everything including TV, music, cosmetics, dolls, chocolate and other media, events and merchandise.

Fun IP Fact: The explosion of the drag industry over the last decade or so has given rise to a plethora of interesting IP questions involving things like the parameters of copyright protection and the fair use doctrine. For example, we have seen multiple copyright cases dealing with emerging art forms like body art (tattoos) and street art (graffiti), but what about protection for hair, make-up and signature ‘looks’ created for the runway? What rights do models, artists and designers have? More discussion to follow, so watch this space.

Briffa is a firm of creative lawyers who work for people operating in creative industries. We are specialists in all aspects of intellectual property law and practice. If you would like to arrange a free call/meeting to discuss your business, project or idea, please contact us on 020 7288 6003 or [email protected].

Written by Éamon Chawke, Partner

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