SpongeBob, Dracula, and Copyright

Content owners have been getting it wrong for a long time. Plus why 1995-2025 is the dark ages of the Internet.

A common theme in this, the dark ages of the Internet (see concluding paragraph for definition), is that content owners overreach with their associated IP rights. For example, copyright owners conveniently forget about fair use except when it helps them. I recently found an older example.

I was watching an old SpongeBob DVD with my girlfriend’s kids. I love SpongeBob. In the “Night Shift” episode, Mr. Krab decides to keep the Krusy Krab open 24 hours. SpongeBob is happy because he gets to work more, Squidward is disgusted because he has to work more. So Squidward makes up a horror story to scare SpongeBob. The story involves lights mysteriously flickering on and off. At one point, the fake horror story seems to be coming true. Eventually, everything is explained away by various coincidences – except for the flickering lights. Then the “camera” pans to a “backstage” view to review what looks like Dracula mischievously turning the lights on and off. Mystery solved! But instead of saying “Oh Dracula!” SpongeBob says, “Oh Nosferatu!” instead.

Nosferatu? Who the heck is that?

Well, it turns out that Nosferatu was a 1922 unauthorized adaptation of Dracula (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nosferatu), and the studio had to change the name of all of the main characters because they could not obtain the rights to the novel!

I wonder if it was easier for SpongeBob’s creator to also use Nosferatu rather than Dracula!

Newsweek magazine (remember magazines?) declared 1995 to be the year of the Internet. I predict that it will take a generation – 30 years – for old media ideas to be replaced with new media idea. It will take until 2025 for us to emerge from the dark ages of the Internet. Let the old bad ideas die, let the new good idea grow.


Erik J. Heels is an MIT engineer; trademark, domain name, and patent lawyer; Red Sox fan; and music lover. He blogs about technology, law, baseball, and rock ‘n’ roll at ErikJHeels.com.

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