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Monopoly Is Theft
October 24, 2012 7:21 AM   Subscribe

Monopoly Is Theft. The antimonopolist history of the world’s most popular board game.
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse (36 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, I didn't think I could possibly like Monopoly any less, but here we are.
posted by valrus at 7:32 AM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's just another example of capitalism subverting anti-capitalistic ideas just enough in order to make a profit. Great article!
posted by Renoroc at 7:32 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hey gang, lets play Monopoly!
posted by The Whelk at 7:35 AM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Anspach was nearly bankrupted, his house thrice mortgaged

Weird how his life took on aspects of the game...
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:44 AM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Great read, btw. Cheers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:44 AM on October 24, 2012


There's a documentary on Monopoly called "Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story" narrated by Zachary Levi (from Chuck and Tangled) that you can watch on Netflix. It's kind of like "King of Kong" in that it focuses on the subculture around tournaments (and attendant DRAMA), but there's a good bit of history at the beginning.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:50 AM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thank you for posting, very interesting. Lizzie Magie is now added to my list of forgotten female heroines.
posted by mareli at 7:53 AM on October 24, 2012


We had a copy of Anti-Monopoly when I was a kid. Didn't know it was still around.
posted by octothorpe at 8:03 AM on October 24, 2012


Monopoly previously

Sometimes I read Anti-Monopoly as Ankh-Morpoly and I would PLAY THAT SO HARD.
posted by The Whelk at 8:47 AM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


As the article points out, but fails to emphasise, Parker Bros. sued Anspach for trademark infringement. The issue of whether Darrow was the legitimate inventor of the game, or whether he truly deserved his patent was entirely moot: the patent had long expired at the time anyway.

The issue, rather, is whether he could market a board game, any board game, under a name which included the word "monopoly", which was a registered trademark for board games. Unsurprisingly, the judge found he couldn't. You may also run into trouble if you try to sell computers under a name that includes the word "Apple", drinks under a name that includes the word "Coca-Cola", or magazines under a name that includes "Harper's", even if you use the prefix "anti-".

The defence that ultimately worked in Anspach's favour in appeal was that "monopoly" (with either upper- or lower-case "m") had become a generic term for this whole type of board games. Mind you, not because this word had been used for the earlier versions of the game before Darrow and Parker Bros. (even the appeal court was quite dismissive of that argument), but because of contemporary consumer surveys. The whole history of the game was completely irrelevant to the decision.

Of course, the irony of a game initially conceived within an anti-corporation movement finally filling the coffers of a major corporation is huge anyway...
posted by Skeptic at 8:47 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]




Like all the men of the quadrilateral, I have been a banker; like all, I have been a tenant. I have known omnipotence, ignominy, imprisonment for three turns. Look here - my right hand is mortgaged. Look here - through this gash in my cape you can see, in my pocket, a crimson card - it is the second property, Fleet Street. On nights when the dice roll doubles, this card gives me power over men with the card of Trafalgar Square, but it subjects me to those with the Strand, who on nights when there are no doubles, owe obedience to those with Piccadilly. In the half-light of dawn, in Free Parking, standing before a black automobile, I have slit the throats of scottie dogs. Once, for an entire round, I was declared bankrupt - I would cry out and no one would heed my call, I would steal £500 bills and not be beheaded. I have known that thing the Chess players knew not - uncertainty. In a Hotel of brass, as I faced the landlord's demand, hope did not abandon me; when owning both Mayfair and Park Lane, panic has not failed me. Heraclides Ponticus reports, admiringly, that Pythagoras recalled having been a shoe, and before that, a racing car, and before that, a top hat; in order to recall similar vicissitudes, I have no need of death, nor even of imposture.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 8:49 AM on October 24, 2012 [13 favorites]


This is another example of how capitalism is like Gozer, the supernatural death-cult god from Ghostbusters: No matter what you think of, capitalism will assume that form and use it to destroy you.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:50 AM on October 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


We had a copy of Anti-Monopoly when I was a kid. Didn't know it was still around.

There's also Coopoly.
posted by kengraham at 8:53 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The issue, rather, is whether he could market a board game, any board game, under a name which included the word "monopoly", which was a registered trademark for board games. Unsurprisingly, the judge found he couldn't. You may also run into trouble if you try to sell computers under a name that includes the word "Apple", drinks under a name that includes the word "Coca-Cola",

Monopoly is a generic word, so your Coca-Cola example is bad. And Apple is the name of a company, not a product. Board games are creative works in a way that doesn't fit with soft drinks or computers, that arguably shouldn't be as strongly tied to trademark laws; they should be titled more like novels. You'd be rightfully sued if you use the word "Harry Potter" in your novel, but not (The Hunt for Red )"October," or (The Bourne) "Conspiracy." Monopoly is a generic word with a prior history, it isn't right that someone should claim it like that.

The revelation to me concerning the business with the Landlord's Game and other predecessors to Monopoly is how they cast the game's "history" that have (had?) long been included in the box as an attempt at revisionism. Parker Bros., then later Hasbro, have long implied in materials that come with the game that Charles Darrow created Monopoly by himself, in text that now seems like its purpose was to establish a legend about the game that people would take as fact even in the face of contrary evidence.
posted by JHarris at 9:09 AM on October 24, 2012


I hate Monopoly with the fire of the sun, but on the other hand, I was the Monopoly guy for Halloween one year and the chicks totally dug it, which was fascinating to me since I employed a monocle whereas Rich Uncle Pennybags never used a monocle. True story.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:11 AM on October 24, 2012


“Patrice McFarland. The Monopoly monopolist. She’d have all the answers because she is now the possessor of Lizzie Magie’s diaries. And a lot of other key stuff. But she isn’t talking.”

Jebus, what's wrong with people??
posted by Floydd at 9:13 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow, I didn't think I could possibly like Monopoly any less,

For me, it was my big brother who delighted in soundly beating me (I guess, one is always soundly beaten in Monopoly), and kept forcing me to play. To this day, I don't believe I've ever won at Monopoly. Although there was that one time, I was maybe eight, and I pretty much had my brother and one of his friends beaten (a bunch of lucky dice rolls, I'm sure) ... until my brother (he would've been ten) erupts into a tantrum, doesn't just wipe the game off the table, he actually turns the table over, and a nearby bookshelf for good measure. He had rage issues.

Did I mention I've always hated Monopoly?
posted by philip-random at 9:33 AM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Monopoly is a generic word, so your Coca-Cola example is bad. And Apple is the name of a company, not a product.

JHarris, I'm afraid that you need to learn a bit about the basics of trademark law. Trademarks are words or symbols used to distinguish the origin of a product or service. "Apple" is not just the name of a fruit and a company (although, to be entirely pedantic, the name of the company is "Apple Inc."), it is also a registered trademark of that same company in many countries for a broad range of products and services (although, quite crucially, not fruit). If you sell products or services in those classes under that name, you are almost certainly going to enjoy a legal shitstorm courtesy of Apple Inc., not because you will be using (part of) its company name (which in and by itself doesn't enjoy much of a legal protection), but because you will be infringing their trademark.

I don't quite understand what you mean by "generic word", but you certainly don't mean "generic" in the sense of trademark law. You can register pretty much any kind of distinguishing word or symbol as a trademark (even "Nature", "Science", "Time" or "Life"...for magazines), but there is one crucial condition: it must indeed be distinguishing in the context of that class of product or services. So, "Apple" can be a valid trademark for computers, telephones or music services, but it would not be a valid trademark for apples. Because it is generic to all apples.

The nightmare of all trademark owners is that their trademark becomes generic, that is, becomes so widely used for not just their products, but also their competitors', that it no longer identifies in the minds of consumers where the product comes from. An example of this is "jeep", which the successive owners of the brand have fought tooth and nail to prevent it becoming generic. Another is "aspirin", which is considered generic in the US and France, but remains a Bayer trademark in other countries. The Californian appeals court that ruled in Anspach favour found that "monopoly", in consumers' minds, had become a generic term for that whole class of board games, regardless of whether they were sold by Parker Bros.
posted by Skeptic at 9:36 AM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Using only myself as evidence, I have to conclude that people who actually enjoy playing Monopoly must not have had older sisters.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:46 AM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Monopoly still retains its anti-monopolistic qualities due to the critical rules that players collect 200 dollars for rounding the board and that the bank is inexhaustible.

Played correctly, players may circle the board, not purchasing property and collecting 200 dollars until the heat death of the universe.

it is almost entirely up to the players to weaponize the game board.
posted by striatic at 9:46 AM on October 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Skeptic, I wasn't speaking from trademark law, but from what rationally makes sense to me. The law could be any damn thing, but it is possible for the law to seem silly to me, in the sense of it seeming outrageous. Of course practically speaking the law means whatever that judge says it means, and the judge ruled in Parker Bros.' favor. I was expressing annoyance at that, or at least was trying to.
posted by JHarris at 9:57 AM on October 24, 2012


As an older brother who played Monopoly with his younger sister, I apologize for our behavior. And yes, you're right, we did cheat.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:04 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Played correctly, players may circle the board, not purchasing property and collecting 200 dollars until the heat death of the universe.

That's not played correctly. Properties that are turned down should be offered for auction. I guess everyone could refuse to bid, but who would not buy a property for a dollar?

The overall net effect of the fines, cards, and Go space should be to remove money from the game. That's why the Free Parking house rule so often played with is a bad idea.
posted by liquidindian at 10:11 AM on October 24, 2012


This article is fucking fascinating!
posted by latkes at 10:11 AM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


liquidindian: You're making me want to try and devise a rule set for monopoly that features monetary policy. You could do it too; rather than being players buying property, they'd be banks issuing mortgages and loans; if a player lands on a square first, it's assumed that rather than buying, a developer comes to them to take out a mortgage to buy a property. Money would be limited at the start, so they'd have to borrow money from the banker (the central bank) in order to issue the mortgages. Rather than a fixed amount at Go, the players get income based on the sum of the mortgages they've issued.

The players would vote every turn on an interest rate for loans from the central bank; the interest rate on loans they make would be pegged to this rate. They'd still have houses and hotels these would be additional loans, the upgrades increase the revenue generated from the property each turn. The catch is that if the total cost of servicing the debt on a square goes above the revenue earned on the property it goes bankrupt, and they're forced to write off the loss. Any other player can then land on the square and pick it up again.

I could go on. This game would be the least fun thing ever invented; but I'm quite enjoying thinking about "Monetary Policy: The Board Game"
posted by Grimgrin at 10:46 AM on October 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


Standard disclaimer: playing Monopoly by the correct rules makes it a shorter game. It doesn't make it a better game.

Any game in which the optimal strategy in the second half is to avoid any action whatsoever is suspect.
posted by Legomancer at 10:59 AM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sometimes I read Anti-Monopoly as Ankh-Morpoly and I would PLAY THAT SO HARD.

First player to set the board afire wins?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:31 AM on October 24, 2012


Hey everybody, how about we play Catan instead?
It doesn't take three hours and everyone gets to play to the end. You still get to shout angrily at each other, too!
posted by Dr-Baa at 12:00 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thinking about it more; (as it seems to be all I've been able to think about for the last hour and a half) you'd need an economic activity multiplier and an inflation multiplier applied to all the property base prices and rents.

The inflation multiplier would be set based on the amount of money changing hands, and there would probably be some random cards that would affect it as well. It would go up fairly constantly. If it goes up too quickly, hyperinflation, the economy collapses, everyone looses. The economic activity multiplier would be determined in part at random, in part by the interest rate, and in part by the amount of money changing hands in each turn.

You could also have a situation where the economy can go into a liquidity trap by having a mechanism where players can skip their turns if the interest rate is lower than the rate of inflation. There'd probably have to be some end condition there as well.

"All right, let's all open up our Excel spreadsheets and have a fun game of 'Monetary Policy: The Board Game' kids!"

The Whelk: And Ankh-Morpoly would just be Monopoly redone by an underpaid graphic designer who was given a copy of "The Streets of Ankh-Morpork" and a deadline. I'd want to play it SO HARD and be bitterly, bitterly, disappointed when I realized the truth.
posted by Grimgrin at 12:10 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


JHarris Of course practically speaking the law means whatever that judge says it means, and the judge ruled in Parker Bros.' favor.

Please, try to read a bit more carefully. As the article tangentially mentions despite its outragemongering, Anspach ultimately won on appeal, with the appeals court deciding that the name "Monopoly" had become generic for any board game of that sort. The history behind its creation, however, had no impact whatsoever in the outcome.

Trademarks are quite simply symbols to help consumers identify the products from the suppliers they have come to know and love (or not). It's thus moot whether a word used as a trademark has a more or less abstract meaning, or even whether it has a meaning, as long as it doesn't mean precisely that whole class of goods or isn't, on the contrary, misleading. Its only purpose is to identify the provenance of goods and services.
posted by Skeptic at 12:15 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's thus moot whether a word used as a trademark has a more or less abstract meaning, or even whether it has a meaning, as long as it doesn't mean precisely that whole class of goods or isn't, on the contrary, misleading.

Or diluting. Which is the real bugbear when it comes to TM law these days.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:31 PM on October 24, 2012


Hey everybody, how about we play Catan instead?
It doesn't take three hours and everyone gets to play to the end. You still get to shout angrily at each other, too!


And you can build Stonehenge out of your pieces at the beginning of a game.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:34 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Uther Bentrazor: "Using only myself as evidence, I have to conclude that people who actually enjoy playing Monopoly must not have had older sisters."

Three older brothers, actually. And I still like to play it although it's been years.
posted by deborah at 1:15 PM on October 24, 2012


Those excited by the idea of Ankh-Morpoly might want to know that there is an Ankh Morpork board game by Martin Wallace that, while not flawless, is a hell of a lot more fun than Monopoly.
posted by liquidindian at 2:54 PM on October 24, 2012


Grimgrin, have heard of a game called Poleconomy? In many ways similar to Monopoly but includes an inflation rate (set by the player currently in charge of the government) that controls how much squares cost.

I think it was designed to teach children how capitalism works. It certainly did a great job, you could do all sorts of great things at the expense of the other players if you managed to become prime minister.
posted by AndrewStephens at 3:27 PM on October 24, 2012


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