Can you copyright a string of punctuation marks? There is at least one person on the planet who thinks that you can: John T. Zuhlsdorf of Catholic Online's "Catholic Forum" uses o{]|:¬) as a "sig" at the end of his posts thinking, I suppose, that it looks a little like a guy wearing a biretta, or perhaps a curmudgeon wearing a tam--he seems to play both roles online--and recently he has begun putting "<--- ©Fr. J.T. Zuhlsdorf" in a white font (difficult, but not impossible, to make out on the screen) next to the little sêmeion. I'm not a lawyer, so I really haven't any idea whether something like that can be copyrighted. I do remember that about a year ago Donald Trump tried to copyright the phrase "You're fired" and he wasn't allowed to do it, but of course anybody can put the little © symbol next to just about anything they want to, and maybe sometimes it takes and sometimes it doesn't.

The more pressing question in this case, however, is not can it be done, but why would anybody want to do it? Does Zuhlsdorf really think that there are hoards of tam-o-shanter fanatics out there looking for emoticonic ways of expressing their identity over the net? Does he think that he's the only priest on the planet who wears a biretta? Maybe when other priests get assigned to his parish he checks to see if they have a little fuzzy ball on their hat, and if they do he says to them "You're fired, but don't try to quote me on that or I'll sue your @$$." <--- Dr. D.S. Carson, PhD

It's clear that we're dealing with a rather special sort of personality here. A perusal of his comments on the Catholic Forum will suffice to show what it might be like to have a conversation with this guy after dinner, and readers of his Wanderer articles already know how anal he is. And this is the same guy who has this for his "home page" on the net. While he may not be the only priest with a thing for fuzzy balls, I think he simply must be the only priest who has posted a copy of his ordination papers on the web along with "several other documents of interest indicating my training". Anybody who reads The Wanderer, of course, already knows who this guy is, and that he is a priest. But of course The Wanderer doesn't include in its bylines photographs of you being ordained by John Paul II, so what good is that?

Don't get me wrong: I often agree with the things that Zuhlsdorf has to say about matters of politics and religion, and I am, obviously, quite pleased to discover that mine is not the hugest ego on the net after all. But it is irritating in the extreme to know that I probably can't use o{]|:¬) any more to seal my pontifications with the stamp of excellence.


Jenstall said…
Oh Father Z! Hah! I think he is kinda nutty, but not dangerously so. Of course, if I were ordained by the Pope I'd want to make sure everyone saw a photo of it as well. Have you ever seen his Examination of Conscience for Confession? It really makes me shake my head just how many things are on it that I would never consider even a venial sin. He blows my mind.
Tom said…
I think he is kinda nutty, but not dangerously so.

Sometimes the simplest explanation is the one to go with.

In inexpert but dogmatic answer to Scott's question, no court would recognize a copyright on a string of seven punctuation marks.

Do you remember the stink raised when Despair, Inc., which sells demotivational posters and caldendars, announced that it was trademarking the frownie?
Scott Carson said…

I think I have seen that examen--doesn't he say that "listening to bad music" is a sin? I can't remember if it's venial or mortal, but if he's thinking of the stuff by Marty Haugen then I know what he means.
Jenstall said…
Ah yes, listening to bad music. That should be a sin actually LOL Or rather, playing it on the radio should be a sin. There's way too much bad music.

My personal favorite though -- playing Dungeons and Dragons is a venial sin.

Kurt Barragan said…
I sincerely doubt that one can copyright a string of seven punctuation marks.

But I also sincerely doubt that Fr Z intends to do so. I imagine that he is intending to assert copyright over the substance of his posts (something that he generally can do).

And I may be a nerd (correction, I clearly am a nerd) but I found the assorted documents relating to his "bona fides" quite interesting.
Scott Carson said…

I'm sure those documents are quite interesting--no denying that. What's more interesting is the desire to plaster them all over the web for people to look at when there is absolutely no need to do so.

As for the copyright, I'm quite certain that it pertains to the emoticon and not to the text of the post, and for two reasons. First, the Catholic Forum already claims copyright for posted material--there is no need to put the symbol at the end of each post. Second, the copyright has a little arrow in front of it pointing right at the emoticon: "<--". It couldn't be clearer, really.

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