Betty Gras wrote, re: the federal NOP draft organic standards which
are currently in the public-comment stage of the process:
> Then there is the question of copyright law, or the common law
> equivalent thereof. Since the word organic has been used for so
> many years by so many agencies and producers who in general agree
> on what the word means, I don't see how the USDA can appropriate
> the word for its own exclusive use. If nothing else, seems as
> though the grandfather clause approach ought to apply here.
I'm not an intellectual property expert, but I do keep an ear to
these tracks as a person who manages a program of writing and
publishing, in diverse media.
I don't see how use of a word has anything to do with copyright law.
Copyright law protects works of art, literature, and information in
any medium. *Trademark* law protects the use of titles, slogans, and
symbols used to distinguish a business or a product in the
Even so, the word "organic" wasn't developed like the word, say,
"RoundUp." It's not a trademark...yet, anyway.
Which I sense is precisely what's at issue with the perceived need
for a federal rule. As I understand that perception, it goes like
A. There is variation in what "organic" means, from certifying
agency to certifying agency, and therefore from product to product
B. This poses practical problems in the larger (national or global)
marketplace. Consumers like things simple, and lose trust in
products/producers that don't pitch to that simplicity. (Which is why
large industrial food corporations spend so much time money on
developing brands and cultivating consumer recognition and trust.)
C. This variability also stands to eviscerate "good
organics"--producers who've built and honored consumer/producer
trust--as "bad organics" could step into the expanding market and
call any old thing "organic," so long as it met that particular
certifier's label and standards. It's this charge that I hear people
leveling against the NOP itself (they're "bastardizing" organics
with some intent of capitalizing on it)--though I'm not sure what
the NOP rule-drafting team would stand to gain by that, but that's a
discussion for another time, please.