Arts & Culture » Books

Whose "discovery"?

Can somebody own a word? What if enough loot were plopped down and, say, Pat Robertson bought the word “fuck,” and every time you used it (writing or speaking), you’d either be in copyright violation or you’d have to fork over a royalty payment to his church? You’d probably have to give it up entirely. Well, fuck that, right?

But that’s exactly what seems to be at issue with the word “discovery.” The New England Booksellers Association (representing 400 mostly independent bookstores in New England and New York) says it’s been camping out in the vocabulary wilderness in its use of the phrase “Discovery of the Month.” Since 1994, its “Discovery” program has been spotlighting new and upcoming authors, both fiction and nonfiction, on a bimonthly basis.

But Megalon-like booksellers Barnes & Noble, Inc., a corporate fire-breather from the big organism-eat-little organism swamps of the 20th century, now claims that NEBA is squatting on its turf. B&N’s own “Discover Great New Writers,” in place since 1990, features “new and emerging” writers.

Though the two programs operate pretty differently and have even coexisted for six years, B&N’s lawyer recently accused NEBA of what amounts to terminological trespassing, causing “confusion in the marketplace.”

Well, “I’ll be fucked,” as Pat Robertson would have the sole right to say in a more thoroughly monopolistic world. Donna Urey, president of NEBA, says, “They now seem to think they can trademark the English language. The so-called ‘world’s largest retailer of books’ (as B&N’s letter referred to itself) seems to be continuing its attempt to become the world’s only book retailer.”

Where’s Godzilla when we need him? Watch for the sequel.

George Tysh is the Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at gtysh@metrotimes.com

comment