If you believe the reports - there's nothing on the Starbucks site (which I note has a 'rumour response' section) - the Mexicans are claiming some sort of rights regarding reproduction of the Aztec calendar stone and the Pyramid of the Moon from the pre-Aztec ruins of Teotihuacan. Starbucks appears to have made and used a stylised representation rather than infringing copyright through unauthorised use of a photograph or drawing commissioned/owned by the government.
Unless there is special statutory protection in Mexican law (effective, of course, only within the Mexican jurisdiction) making an image of the stone and using that image on a commercial basis would appear to be permissible. It certainly wouldn't breach Australian or US copyright law, as the subjects of the images are well out of copyright. The vagueness of the reports means that it is impossible to tell whether the "government archaeological agency" is asserting that Starbucks has breached a trade mark regarding the stone and pyramid. Confusion reigns.
The reports are similar to the kerfuffle in December 2007 over reports that Zahi Hawass (the Egyptian counterpart of Steve 'Crocodile' Irwin) was seeking copyright protection for pyramids, scarabs and indeed every other pharaonic artefact. Hawass is the high-profile head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. The proposal, which unsurprisingly appears to have died, would reportedly have required payment to that Council of a fee for 'replicas' of artifacts. Construct a pyramid-shaped building - in Sydney, London, Beijing or Las Vegas - and the cash register in Cairo would supposedly go kling.
In reality the insistence in international copyright law and Australian law, such as the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth, ) on protecting expression rather than idea and recognising national jurisdictions means that the Council would not have been impose a fee on Australian replication of a 'four-sided pointy thing', a generic scarab or faux pharaonic bling. The finite duration of protection under Australian copyright law also means that Hawass' ambitions are at best problematical.
Sceptics, such as myself, commented that his announcement momentarily grabbed media attention, was presumably useful in legitimising the Council's authority (or merely deflecting criticisms of Hawass) and underpinned Egyptian empire-building in international fora such as UNESCO. Arguably it wasn't an effective response to museological and archaeological challenges in Egypt, a jurisdiction that teeters on being a failed state, and it displayed - deliberately or otherwise - a misunderstanding of copyright and international law.
It may indeed have been counter-productive, akin to responses to claims in Australia several years ago by Indigenous people who asserted a "copyright" in the idea of 'kangaroo' or sought a ban on females playing the didgeridoo (the latter on the basis that use would result in sterility or worse).
Dr Mark Rose of the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association was thus reported as commenting that HarperCollins had committed "an extreme faux pas" by publishing a chapter on didgeridoo playing in its 2008 Australian edition of British bestseller The Daring Book for Girls -
I wouldn't let my daughter touch one ... I reckon it's the equivalent of encouraging someone to play with razor blades. I would say pulp it. ... The didgeridoo is definitely a men's business ceremonial tool. We know very clearly that there's a range of consequences for a female touching a didgeridoo. Infertility would be the start of it.Indigenous author Dr Anita Heiss was reported as saying she would not "even pick up a didgeridoo".
Some Indigenous people disagree with that view, a disagreement highlighted in for example 'The ongoing debate about women playing didjeridu' by Karl Neuenfeldt in 1 Australian Aboriginal Studies (2006) 36-43 [PDF]. HarperCollins on the other hand announced that it "apologises unreservedly to any Aboriginal Australians who were offended by the inclusion of instructions on how to play the didgeridoo in the forthcoming publication. HarperCollins will replace this item when the book is reprinted as clearly we had no intention to offend."
Starbucks wants to do business in Mexico and will presumably, as the reports go, be "working with Mexico to resolve the issue as quickly as possible", irrespective of the niceties of Mexican trade mark, copyright or sui generis cultural protection law.
Meanwhile the estate of scifi author Philip K Dick – certified as great through inclusion in The Library of America but on occasion just certifiable - is reportedly planning to "sue Google" over the search giant's decision to brand its mobile phone as the 'Nexus One'. The suit will supposedly be based on claims that the brand 'exists' in Dick's work, although observers have noted that neither Dick nor his family registered 'Nexus' as a trade mark. The Dick estate will presumably have to argue that Google is trading off the goodwill associated with the Nexus 'replicants' in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Replicants? They're ones that burn so brightly but not for very long and have unpleasant habits such as squashing your skull or removing your eyeballs ... not quite the association I want for my phone.
His daughter told the NYT last year that she was "shocked and dismayed" (s&d is so much better than dancing with glee to the bank) over reports that Google would use the Nexus name. "We were never consulted, no requests were made, and we didn't grant any sort of permissions", perhaps because Google didn't think it needed to consult the keepers of the flame, given its claim that the word is being used in the generic sense of where things meet.
A quick surf indicates that 'Nexus' is in use elsewhere, for example the Nexus Program "designed to expedite the border clearance process for low-risk, pre-approved travellers into Canada and the United States". One writer rather charmingly explains that -
Our neighbor to the north is conveniently located, but getting across the border can be anything but convenient. Americans who frequently travel to Canada should apply for a Nexus pass to expedite the border crossing process. Nexus member benefits include automated entry through self-serve kiosks at the airport, dedicated traffic lanes to shorten the wait time by land and a simple call to officials to get through by boat. A membership is valid for five years.Quite, and there's no problem with being terminated by a Bladerunner when your five years are up.