Cool Idea -- Lame Lawsuit
Clever concept overshadowed by silly suit
The Washington Post website has an article about The Library Hotel, a Manhattan business that overlooks the New York Public Library, has filled their rooms with books and numbered the rooms according to how the books would be shelved in an actual library. For instance: reserve room number 700.003 and your reading material will consist of titles in the Performing Arts, book room 800.001 and you'll be reading erotic literature (sounds perfect for the honeymoon suite.)
Most of us probably remember learning about this book classification system during our elementary school years, but how many of us know it's actually a protected property? Me neither... at least until today.
This system of book filing is called the Dewey Decimal System. The system was created in 1873 by Melvil Dewey, but The Online Computer Library Center in Dublin, Ohio (OCLC) acquired the rights when they purchased Forest Press in 1988. OCLC charges libraries that use the system a minimum of $500 per year for permission.
Fine. Although I feel the system should have long ago been absorbed into the public domain, (it's used by public institutions, right?) as a creator I understand the need to maintain and protect the integrity of an intellectual property. But, why are they suing the hotel for TRIPLE the hotel's profits since it's opening?
Getting a little greedy there, ain't ya?
If won, this lawsuit will effectively crush this guy's idea, business, and any chance at OCLC earning future royalties on the hotel's use of the system. Obviously I am not privy to the details of this case, but I gotta believe no one involved in the creation of this hotel ever thought about investigating the ownership of the Dewey Decimal System. It's use has been drilled into us by schools and libraries since before we even applied for our first library card. It's very strange to think of someone 'owning' this filing system. I mean, do we pay a royalty to anyone when we file alphabetically?
Comedian Stephen Wright once asked if the alphabet was in that order because of the song. Do schools pay a royalty when teaching young students the alphabet by singing them the song? I understand that the song "Happy Birthday" is still protected and cannot be sung on tv, in restaurants, etc. without a royalty being paid. Do the same rules apply to the ABC song? What if the hotel simply renamed the rooms after authors or subjects? "I'd like to book the Byron Room -- or the Classic Literature Suite, please."
How does the Library of Congress shelve their copies of books? If they use the Dewey Decimal System do they pay a royalty?
I hate to see a creative idea like this put to death by what seems to me to be a silly lawsuit. Do YOU -- my readers -- have any other opinions on this topic, or ideas on how to defeat it or render their dispute moot? I'd love to hear from you. Email your suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org