Musings on books, technology, entrepreneurship, nonprofits and umm.. everything else …

Archive for September, 2012

Women that helped unlock the DNA

Most of you probably know that Madame Curie was the first women to lecture at the Sorbonne. How many of us know who the second woman scientist was?

Thanks to a fascinating book on DNA, The Violinist’s Thumb, I now know the answer. This is a must read if you enjoyed books like Guns, Germs and Steel. Written with a keen eye for detail and storytelling by Sam Kean, the book explores the story of DNA from several different facets. You will hear more about it in upcoming posts. But if you have a few hours to spare, open up another tab and order this book – it will be worth your time. You can read a much more articulate review here.

So who was she? Sister Miriam Stimson started off working on wound-healing hormones and helped create Preparation H. But what made her famous was her work on DNA that helped Watson and Crick (along with the work of many other scientists) to perfect their model that won them the Nobel Prize. She pioneered a new way of ultraviolet analysis of DNA as well.

The same chapter in the book also talks about the lives of of other women scientists – Lynn Margulis, and Barbara McClintock. Today we don’t see this as a big deal as the gender gap in the sciences is going down rapidly, but back in the days the commitment and determination required to work like these women scientists did is admirable indeed!

Even though admission to women at Sorbonne was opened in 1860, it took 46 more years for them to appoint their first woman professor. We have come a long way since then in terms of the place for women in our personal and professional lives but it seems amazing that even so many decades ago, social norms and glass ceilings could not prevent brave souls like these women from doing amazing work.

Read the book for great stories such as this that address several other aspects of the history of genes and genomes, including the fascinating tale of Craig Venter and the race to map the human genome.

Who owns Marilyn Monroe?

I mean that in a figurative sense of course as the celebrity herself is not with us anymore. Who owns you after you die, specifically if what you did when you lived was in the public sphere?

This is something that Bill Cosby has been trying to get legislated in Massachusetts. And his legal team is making some headway on that front. The underlying issue here is the publicity rights of a celebrity and their ownership post-mortem by the estate in terms of how  their likeness can be reproduced in any form. The key concern here is that the celebrity does not wish their likeness to be used to endorse any product that they might not have endorsed while alive. What makes this a big mess is that there is no single federal law that addresses this, but it is a mish-mash of state laws passed over the years. For example, one of the most “progressive” in terms of the rights of dead people on this front has been .. take a guess .. Indiana. The reason for this is not that a lot of celebrities live there, or lived there, but that Indiana is the home of CMG Worldwide, that owns rights to a wide array of celebrities, ranging from James Dean to Malcolm X and as such have been lobbying for fairly expansive laws.

And where does our fair lady figure in all this? Unfortunately for her, she was domiciled in New York where the laws are not that stringent. Her estate and CMG went through a lengthy “divorce” in 2010, but CMG continued to use assets that the estate was not happy about. After lawsuits in New York, they decided to settle out of court.  Digicon Media is in the crosshairs of the estate now, as  they announced a concert with a 3D hologram of Marilyn Monroe.

And in the  fascinating history of  this  issue, the first strike, pretty much, has to do with America’s favorite pastime … and gum. More specifically the first lawsuit on this issue was Haelan Laboratories, Inc. v. Topps Chewing Gum, Inc where the two parried in court on the rights of use of baseball player images on baseball cards. I believe there was a Charlie Chaplin lawsuit as well but that was during his lifetime.  In California, the dead own rights to their image for 70 years after their death.

If details of these issues tickle your fancy, then here is a good paper that talks about it it some detail on Protecting Celebrity Legacies.

So if you plan to get famous, there’s another wad of Benjamins to hand off to lawyers to make sure that your estate owns the rights to your likeness and its fair use once you’re gone!