A friend of mine works for Delaware North, the Yosemite concessionaire that is in the middle of the recent name controversy. He offered an explanation of how the company came to own the rights to the famous names, and that, instead of being a theft of the rights of the people, it was a far-sighted move that protects a rare treasure.
The company took this action around the time the internet was being born. The internet, as we all know, has changed the world, and changed how we look at intellectual items, such as the worth of a name. Creators of all types of intellectual property, such as musicians, writers and photographers, suddenly saw their property lose its value, thanks to the internet.
A good example is photography. Before the internet, photos were sold to publishers on an individual basis; it involved a physical item – a slide or a print – that had to be marketed, packaged, and individually handled before it had any commercial value. A photographer could make a good living from his expertise in creating and marketing good photography. The internet changed how photos were marketed – they became electronic files that could easily be downloaded and transferred between viewers. The end result has been an extreme loss of value. Photos that would have sold for thousands now sell for pennies on the dollar, and few can make any kind of living from editorial photography. Those few who can, protect their work with copyright, which makes it a crime to copy their photos without permission.
Trademark protects names pretty much the same way that copyright protects works of art. Long before it became an issue, Delaware North had the foresight to see the value of those names and took steps to protect them, so they would not be used in ways that would confuse consumers or desecrate the value of the original items. Imagine how a string of Ahwanee lodges would have affected the impact of the name of the original Yosemite hotel.
When, in the normal course of business, Delaware North lost the bid to manage Yosemite properties, my friend says the company added the names to their list of things that they own that had value – like the linens, the signs, the silverware, the stock in the gift shop – and put a value on it. All that remains is for the Park Service to negotiate a fair price.
Put things this way and it doesn’t seem quite so outrageous to buy and sell those names.
I’m Len Wilcox and that’s the Western View from AgNet West.