Leslie Chong is a J.D. Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School
When Jose Ojeda Vidal penned the note “Estamos bien en el refugio los 33” (“We are okay in the refuge, the 33 of us”), it is unlikely that he could have imagined the furor that those seven words written in red ink on a scrap piece of paper would cause. As the seventh Chilean miner to be rescued after over two months trapped underground, he is now at the centre of a copyright controversy spurred by the registration of that now-infamous Spanish phrase.
A Chilean writer, Pablo Huneeus had registered the words on Mr. Ojeda’s behalf “after seeing Chilean President Sebastian Pinera handing out copies of the message to the British Queen and prime minister during his tour of Europe”. Huneeus’ goal was not to commercialize the phrase that the President claimed to “belong to all Chileans”, but rather to prevent the President from reaping the rewards of Mr. Ojeda’s creative labour. Since being discovered, the phrase served as a token of hope and has been seen on clothing, stickers and other novelty items in support of the miners’ rescue.
While the note is still in the President’s possession, the copyright in the written phrase has since been registered to Mr. Ojeda, prompting debate about whether copyright protection ought to have been extended. As some critics have argued, current copyright laws may be covering works that fall beyond the scope of those originally contemplated for protection by copyright law. While it remains to be seen whether Mr. Ojeda’s copyright registration will even stand the test of time, the rescue will continue to spark a flurry of copyright applications for other notable phrases and the rights to the miners’ story for films and books.