This summer, a blogger named Philip Howard was surprised to see the word Nookd in his electronic copy of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
Howard was reading the Russian classic on a device called a Nook, which is an e-reader sold by Barnes and Noble.
He subsequently discovered that wherever a variation of the word kindle should have appeared in the English translation of this novel, it had been replaced with some corresponding variation of the word nook.
Kindle, incidentally, is the name of an e-reader sold by one of Barnes and Noble’s chief competitors, Amazon.com
Kindle and Nook have never been on what you could call speaking terms, although people who adhere to more traditional definitions of those words might point out that a lot of wonderful things can be kindled in a nook.
Apparently, someone working at or for Barnes and Noble thought it would be a bad thing if Nook users were reminded of Amazon’s Kindle in any way, perhaps not even any of the ways that Tolstoy originally intended.
I know how Barnes and Noble feels.
Many years ago, I started dating this woman and I thought a sensible course of action would be to go through all her electronic reading material every day and replace the first names of all her ex-boyfriends with my name so she wouldn’t be unduly reminded of them.
Her ex-boyfriends were Chad, Ash, Pierce, Tanner, Buck, Chase and Chance.
Unfortunately, my plan backfired horribly as my revamped news and feature stories actually made my girlfriend think worse of me, not better.
She read sentences I had never intended her to read like, Praiseworthy politician gets burned at the ballot box because of hanging Steves ; Mountainside village buried in volcanic Steve ; The treachery of motorcycle customizer Jesse James Steved the kind heart of actress Sandra Bullock ; If you are an inveterate Steve, you are increasing your risk for skin cancer ; Criminal robs bank while Steve-naked, then leads police on a high-speed Steve ending in a multicar crash. Victims stand little Steve of surviving.
She broke up with me immediately, even though I knew in my heart that she was touched by my love gesture, as I have repeatedly insisted to my parole officer ever since.
None of that is true, of course, except for the part about me doing things that make significant others think worse of me, not better.
Certainly a person who goes to such extreme lengths in the name of romance seems far more desperate than a company that goes to such extreme lengths in the name of commerce.
When Shakespeare asked, What’s in a name? four centuries ago, it’s a good bet that nobody answered Plenty, if you’re a company that never met an extreme length it didn’t like.
Another thing Shakespeare wrote four centuries ago is, In me thou seest the twilight of such day/As after sunset fadeth in the west
He wrote this with little fear that the use of the word twilight would one day raise the ire of lawyers for sparkly pubescent vampires.
Last year, Summit Entertainment, the company that is releasing the movie versions of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series of fanged romances, sued Tom Markson, the owner of the domain name Twilight.com.
According to a story in the Hollywood Reporter, Summit claimed Markson was infringing on the movie studio’s trademarks and copyrights with his site, even though Markson has owned the rights to Twilight.com since 1994, 11 years before the publication of the first novel in Meyer’s series.
I don’t know the specific outcome of these legal proceedings, but when you visit Twilight.com now, you are sent to a site maintained by Summit Entertainment.
For all anybody knows, Markson could have purchased the domain name with the intention of celebrating a certain quality of light that Shakespeare saw, and we still see, in the morning and evening skies.
We are justified, however, in judging him for his failure to anticipate a great societal shift whereby we all agreed that twilight should be redefined as sparkly pubescent vampires in love.
If you think that sounds a little screwy, have you heard the latest about the J. Geils Band?
Singer and guitarist John Geils is embroiled in a legal dispute with his former bandmates over the right to use the name, J. Geils Band.
If the bandmates win, then the J. Geils Band will go out on tour without the musician the band was named for and Geils will sit home while his name appears on venue marquees across the country.
Perhaps Geils is in the wrong here, but imagine if someone believed that their rights to your name were superior in some way to your rights to your name.
Trademark infringement cases will always be a good place to go when you’re looking for logic puzzles and outcomes that seem to defy the laws of time, if not the laws of trademark infringement .
But if you’re looking for evidence that someone has tampered with a digitalized novel, an excellent resource for you would be one of those unwieldy, insultingly obsolete objects that, nevertheless, remain stubbornly immune to search-and-replace campaigns: a book on paper.
Fortune 500 companies that use electronic media to try to convince you to consume more electronic media will employ search and replace tactics anywhere their competitors’ catchphrases and buzzwords are searchable and replaceable.
But their ability to delete things in the analog world is limited.
So feel free to go out in your front yard and enjoy the twilight some morning.
While you are at it, eat one of those un-trademarked apples we’ve been hearing so much about.
After all, Eve didn’t tempt Adam with a Microsoft.