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Legal Disputes

Let’s start with this one, since it has, more or less, already taken place. A small landowner in Nebraska named Bill parks his tractor in the shed after a long day of work in the fields. He wipes sixteen hours worth of sweat off his brow while he opens his mail. All bills. Two men in dark suits approach him at the front door and hand him a subpoena. The farmer opens the subpoena, quite surprised to learn he’s being sued by a major U.S. corporation for copyright infringement. It’s a huge settlement they’re after – in the millions. He doesn’t have one tenth of what they’re asking in damages. Since he sits on a tractor most days, he hasn’t got the faintest notion how he could be named in a suit for copyright infringement. He’s certain they’ve got a case of mistaken identity and places the document at the bottom of a pile of correspondence, making a mental note to consult his lawyer about what to do with the nuisance suit.

Rest assured, it’s no mistake. The large U.S. corporation spent millions in developing a strand of DNA for corn that is resistant to a pesticide they also own. When you buy their corn seeds and use their pesticide for your crops, you’ll get excellent results. They copyright the strand of corn DNA they worked to develop. To protect the investment in DNA research they hire over seventy-five corporate lawyers to aggressively prosecute copyright ‘thieves’. They have to establish a legal precedent that attracts a lot of publicity; they intend to branch out into other food stuffs, such as eggs that last longer on the shelf, wheat that produces heavier grain, chickens that add weight quickly, beef that responds to their brand of steroids in cattle foods. The list is endless, and it’s all going to be done by protecting copyrighted DNA strands.

Bill consults his country lawyer about the suit, explaining that he has stolen nothing in his life from anyone. The lawyer does a bit of researching and discovers he’s opposed on the brief by some of the best legal minds in history, paid for by a Dow Jones multinational. He first explains to the multinational that his client doesn’t know how the patented corn seed got into his fields. Possibly the seed cleaning company that strips seeds off Bill’s corn for next year’s crop has intermingled patented seeds with his. He tries to offer a settlement but this is not what the corporation wants. They want a trial. They wish to establish for the record that they’re prepared to sue if anyone grows their corn without paying them for the seeds.

Bill and the country lawyer lose the case which costs him more than he can pay in damages and legal costs. He appeals. The appeal also loses right up to the Supreme Court since copyright law is sacrosanct in the U.S. Intellectual property, in this case a section of DNA, is property protected by the highest court in the land. Bill’s house, farm and equipment are sold at auction to the highest bidder, and the proceeds given to a multinational worth more than a quarter trillion in market cap. The proceeds don’t cover the cost of one of the lawyers for one year, but they’ve earned an important victory – they own food.