Has Eyes on the Prize Been Commonsized?

In my post yesterday on Digital Disobedience and the possibility that works of art may acquire a functionally public status, I included some legal metaphors for thinking about how this process might work: cultural adverse possession, cultural prescriptive easements, cultural essential facilities. But these are technical, and they aren’t pithy. What copyright law needs is a term for this concept that’s as catchy as the one that trademark lawyers get to use: genericide, which describes the cultural evolution of a mark from identifier of a product or service to identifier of class of products or services. Think: aspirin, which was a trademark once, and think of the battles that the folks at Xerox wage to keep this from happening to them.

For now, the best I can do in the copyright realm is this:

Commonsize.

As in, not only is the song “Happy Birthday” now in the public domain, but it was arguably “commonsized” — functionally appropriated by all of us — long before. Has Eyes on the Prize been commonsized? According to Wired News, who talked to the people who own the copyright to the film, the answer is most definitely “no.”

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