Copyright symbol creator sues corporations

copyrightMedia giants faced an unexpected blow to their intellectual property rights today, when retired graphic artist Ralph Cumin filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement against 800 of the world’s largest corporations. Cumin designed the circle-R and circle-C symbols widely used in corporate logos and copyright notices.

“I created these symbols for my personal use in 1952,” says Ralph Cumin. “An circle-R for Ralph, and a circle-C for Cumin. I used to put them on my artwork, as a way of saying, ‘hey, this is mine’.”

It was only recently that Cumin, 85 realized his symbol was appearing on corporate material.

“I was looking at a can of Coca-Cola, and I noticed what I thought was a speck of dust on the end of the logo. When I used a magnifying glass I saw it was an circle-R – my circle-R”

Cumin was shocked and angered to discover that his private “I own this” symbols had been used on a vast number of products and publications. Huge corporations have vied with each other to use the fashionable icons as part of their corporate identity.

“My eyesight was never great,” said Cumin. “So they printed the symbols really small, hoping I wouldn’t notice. That was a dirty trick. But now they’re going to pay.”

Cumin’s lawsuit targets some of the world’s biggest businesses, including Coca-Cola, Apple, and Disney. If successful, Cumin would receive compensation for each violation, and a royalty on the use of his special symbols. Total damages could exceed 1.4 quintillion dollars – more than the world’s GNP for all of recorded history.

Cumin admits it’s a lot. “But the cost of intellectual theft is much higher,” he said.

Cumin said the recording industry has been one of the worst culprits. It has used his symbols without permission on millions of records and DVDs over the years. “It’s piracy, pure and simple,” says Cumin, who is demanding the RIAA shell out $150,000 for every CD sold which used his symbols.

Defense lawyers are expected to claim that distinctive marks are now part of each company’s trademark. However, they could be on shaky legal ground, after an announcement by the Trademark Distillery of Ithaca, NY. Leon Trademark, president of the family-owned business, said that the Trademark name, and its TM symbol, which have been used on its beers for 90 years, have no place on other corporate logos.

“Companies took a fancy to our name a few years back,” said Trademark. “We turned a blind eye, thinking it was good publicity, but now the Trademark family name and symbol have just become a generic claim on any old business logo. They don’t even capitalize the word any more. We want our Trademark back, and we’re willing to fight for it.”

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