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September 21, 2003 6:22 AM   Subscribe

A trademark infringement lawsuit has been filed by the owners of the Dewey Decimal System against New York's Library Hotel, which numbers and fills rooms based on the system: "Each of the 10 guestrooms floors honors one of the 10 categories of the DDC and each of the 60 rooms is uniquely adorned with a collection of books and art exploring a distinctive topic within the category or floor it belongs to." Call early to book Room 800.001.
posted by rcade (53 comments total)

 
And don't go having an affair in 1100.002!
Personally, I would love to stay there.

This is clearly a bibliophile's dream come true.


posted by quietfish at 6:28 AM on September 21, 2003


And how many of us would have ever heard of The Library Hotel if this lawsuit weren't happening?
I call it another FrankenFox.
posted by wendell at 6:32 AM on September 21, 2003


Surely we've all heard of the hotel. It was the site of the Zeldman wedding.
posted by rcade at 6:36 AM on September 21, 2003


gotta love those gold shoes.
posted by dabitch at 6:47 AM on September 21, 2003


"At a minimum, if they want to continue to use it, there certainly has to be some sort of a license to the Library Hotel," he said. "We're not interested in putting the hotel out of business."

...

The complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Columbus on Wednesday seeks triple the hotel's profits since its opening or triple the organization's damages, whichever is greater, from hotel owner Henry Kallan.

Maybe it's just me, but these two statements don't seem to agree: triple the profits?!?!? And yet you don't want to put them out of business!?!?! I know that they're probably just suing for a higher amount than they expect to get, but even so...
posted by filmgoerjuan at 6:49 AM on September 21, 2003


...would think they were passing themselves off as connected with the owner of the Dewey Decimal Classification system. --the lawyer

Incorrect, sir. Neither I nor any of the four people I just asked knew that there existed an owner of the system, let alone that they were (or were not, as the case may be) associated with anyone.

How exactly is the DD system protected? I mean, the whole thing can't be a trademark. The idea is 130 years old. I understand how they can maintain the system and charge libraries to use it, and how new editions of the system can be copyrighted, but do they really have an exclusive right to the concept anymore?
posted by Nothing at 6:49 AM on September 21, 2003


The center charges libraries at least $500 a year for its use.
I can't believe libraries have to pay to use the Dewey Decimal System...(I remember learning it in school--is there any other trademarked classification system that is taught to public school students?)

As for the hotel, isn't it a non-competitive use? (it is a cute idea tho)
posted by amberglow at 6:52 AM on September 21, 2003


love the idea, but gotta say the dewey decimal system is pretty weird/ outdated. There's a whole section for "dinosaurs" but nothing for physics or chemistry? (biology I guess would be zoology or botany...) And under religion there's no section for judeo-christian? etc.

Anyway, these numbers don't seem to be the ones on my books - is there another widely used system? I have a couple books on Hobbes out now that start JC153.H66 - so that's not dewey, clearly.
posted by mdn at 6:57 AM on September 21, 2003


mdn: I believe that is the Library of Congress system and it was instituted to address all the problems you were referring to. But it wouldn't be nearly as marketable way to number hotel rooms. I think this is as non-competing as it gets.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 7:02 AM on September 21, 2003


WTF? I'm baffled as to how a numbering system can be "owned."
posted by davidmsc at 7:23 AM on September 21, 2003


Nothing: the entire DD system is copyrighted, and the variations on the name are trademarked. The fact that OCLC is making a trademark infringement suit implies (I am not a lawyer) that the hotel actually uses the words Dewey Decimal somewhere pretty noticeable.

Moreover, I believe that trademarks themselves have no age limit, as long as the owner keeps the paperwork current.

...most of the foregoing is based on this.
posted by aramaic at 7:23 AM on September 21, 2003


I had a nice time at the Library Hotel ... except the dang bellhop kept shushing me.
posted by RavinDave at 7:25 AM on September 21, 2003


juan, treble damages are a feature of some statutory based lawsuits. If the statute allows for them plaintiffs will always include them in their claim. Under certain circumstances the Lanham Act (which this suit is brought under) does allow for treble damages, including "willful" trademark infringement and counterfeiting. Whether the proper elements are proven to trigger these damages is anyone's guess. As usual the media outlets like to throw this stuff in their stories to get reactions from their readers. At least they didn't mix up copyright and trademark which happens all the time.
posted by anathema at 7:25 AM on September 21, 2003


The center charges libraries at least $500 a year for its use.
I'm a librarian, and I've never heard of this. I hope we don't get sued!

This makes the OCLC look like ninnies. Librarians spend time fighting for the freedom of information. For many librarians, the concept of owning an idea is laughable. Besides the 10th, 11th, and 12th floors are not even labled, exactly, according to the DDC. The hotel added a thousands place on to the actual figures (i.e. in a library those sections are the 000s, 100s, and 200s).
posted by ArcAm at 7:32 AM on September 21, 2003


Is Dewey the guy who ran for President? He is a loser....
posted by Postroad at 7:42 AM on September 21, 2003


love the idea, but gotta say the dewey decimal system is pretty weird/ outdated. There's a whole section for "dinosaurs" but nothing for physics or chemistry? (biology I guess would be zoology or botany...) And under religion there's no section for judeo-christian? etc.

The hotel not having rooms corresponding rooms for these categories doesn't mean they exist. And 153.H66 JC is definitely a DDC number.
posted by lazy-ville at 7:43 AM on September 21, 2003


The recent versions may be copyrighted, but large parts must be in the public domain by now, including the basic categories. Notably, they are not alleging copyright violation. From the website of the hotel, it seems the name "Dewey Decimal" is used how one would expect: to describe the system used to name the rooms. So here's a question: If I were to find a 1910 version of the DD system, clearly in the public domain with regard to copyright, and use it commercially, would I have to call it something besides what it is? It's not exactly a parallel situation, but the answer could be enlightening as to the particulars of the case. It's strange to think of a public domain work with a title that has a maintained trademark, but it could happen.
posted by Nothing at 7:47 AM on September 21, 2003


Personally, I'm amazed they can trademark a simple thing like classifying a topic by a number. I'm sure there'd be plenty of prior art throughout history that would render this patent absurd if not the "bleedin' obvious" nature of it all; but then, that's the American patent system for you.

I plan on patenting a bogey disposal system, and suing anyone who rolls and flicks - I'll be richer than Bill Gates, I tell ya! Mwuahahahaahaaa!

[Nothing, it's trademarks not copyrights.]
posted by Blue Stone at 8:03 AM on September 21, 2003


Nothing please ignore my foolish postscript.
posted by Blue Stone at 8:06 AM on September 21, 2003


Personally, I would love to stay there.


yeah, me too:

Petite Room with Double Bed
Internet Rate
Stocked mini-bar , VCR, Nature Sounds CD, Shower Massage, Bathrobe, Cable and Movie Channels, Natura Bath Products, Data port with High Speed Internet Access, In Room library, Cordless phone, 2 lines with voice mail, Turndown service with Belgian Chocolate
Daily Rate US$:
275.00 (Tue 10/7/2003)
Total Taxes US$: 39.47
Nights: 1
Total US$: 314.47
posted by matteo at 8:15 AM on September 21, 2003


Damn. There goes my business model. Well, it's on to plan "B" - the "Phrenology Cafe"
posted by troutfishing at 8:20 AM on September 21, 2003


Is Dewey the guy who ran for President? He is a loser....

John Dewey is not Melville Dewey. Both are losers in their own way. John Dewet was from Vermont. We have "Dewey Days" to celebrate his military prowess. Melville Dewey later changed his name to Melvil Dui in an attempt to employ what he called simplified spelling. I have the 13th edition of the DDC and some of it is in this bizarre new orthography. Dewey of the library world was the one who thought you should employ women as librarians because you could pay them less. And he had to resign as state librarian of New York because he made several anti-semitic remarks.

Then again, OCLC is being ridiculous.
posted by jessamyn at 8:42 AM on September 21, 2003 [1 favorite]


A previous Library Hotel discussion.
posted by liam at 8:51 AM on September 21, 2003


Nothing, an excellent question and one that was recently addressed by the Supreme Court in the Dastar case.
posted by anathema at 8:55 AM on September 21, 2003


Wonder what the nights are like in 1200.003. My romances, anyway, would have to be in 800.005. Uggh.
posted by billsaysthis at 9:10 AM on September 21, 2003


Dewey Decimal isn't the only indexing system where copyright protection has caused controversy.
posted by gimonca at 9:31 AM on September 21, 2003


The hotel not having rooms corresponding rooms for these categories doesn't mean they exist.

okay, I guess I thought they listed all the categories - they said it was divided in 10 main sections, and these books would presumably be under philosophy or social science, which numbers don't match the numbers on the book.

And 153.H66 JC is definitely a DDC number.

Hmm - but the letters are at the front on the book and at the library - the different floors of the library are divided according to letters and then subdivided on the shelves according to numbers - maybe the hotel dropped the letters because they complicated things, but I still can't see how the various numbers would match.

Okay, I have another book by hobbes on civil war which is BD400.H6 - it obviously doesn't have anything to do with languages. And BD usually seems to be philosophy-related - I end up there a lot. Most of the aristotle commentary I was reading over the summer was BD434.xx .

I guess it's just the simplification by the hotel or something, but anyone who understands this stuff, I'd love to have it clarified...
posted by mdn at 9:36 AM on September 21, 2003


I'm not sure where the lawyer got his figure, but libraries who use the Dewey manuals do have to pay various yearly fees. We're not even supposed to use our Dewey manuals to tell a non-dewey entity the proper codes for various categories.

I'm sure anyone can arrange their books as they please. However, if you need the Dewey manuals to figure out the correct Dewey number those are going to cost you $75 to $250 a year. (Depends on single-use or site licenses.) Add in the cost of going online and using their catalog system, etc. and you could pay $500 a year or more. (Prices)

I think if the hotel had advertised "Rooms based on library cataloging" they might have slipped through.
posted by ?! at 9:43 AM on September 21, 2003


From the mining company: "The LC System organizes material in libraries according to twenty-one branches of knowledge. The 21 categories (labeled A-Z except I,O,W,X and Y) are further divided by adding one or two additional letters and a set of numbers."

BD is Speculative Philosophy

400 is Ontology (including the soul, life, death)

.H6 is your author code

A Dewey number will usually be ###.##/AA### while a LC number usually is AA###.A## (#-Number , A-Alpha)

That's the quick guide. It can be more or less complex at your library. Your results may vary. It all depends on the skill and philosophy of your library cataloger.

(By the way, Thomas Hobbes is often listed as a philosopher.)
posted by ?! at 9:57 AM on September 21, 2003


And they wonder why almost no research libraries still use Dewey (TM)... the only one I've had to deal with was Duke's, where I spent all my time in 328.73*, though I'm sure there are others.

That's just daft.

And they're not doing it right, dammit. Political science should be the 320s, not the 300s. Geez, people. And, I'd be more likely to go if it were organized by LC. And if they had more than a puny 6000 volumes.

*instead of the JK1100 and JK2400's, as would be just and proper. And, yes, I know that the fees aren't why they switched.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:53 AM on September 21, 2003


I hate being wrong.
posted by lazy-ville at 10:58 AM on September 21, 2003


I hate the Dewey system. It's illogical, miscategorises many, many books, and is wholly unintuitive.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:03 AM on September 21, 2003


Okay, I have another book by hobbes on civil war which is BD400.H6

Yes, the BD classes Hobbes as a philosopher, the JC as a political scientist. Likewise, for example, you'll find Greek philosophers split up between B (philosophy) and PA (Greek authors)—and even the J's for some books on Aristotle's Politics, etc.

In any case, all these are all classified under the Library of Congress scheme. The Dewey system is quaint & historic & all, but anyone who's used any part of a major research library organized under it knows how inferior it is!
posted by Zurishaddai at 11:03 AM on September 21, 2003


Matteo, that's the regular rate. There's a weekend special, where a petite room (small, but not microscopic) is $229 per night. And that, believe it or leave it, is actually a competitive rate in NYC.

And a couple of months ago, the weekend special was $179 per night. I've stayed at the Library Hotel several times, each time in a different room. The dining room has a 24-hour, serve yourself, cappuccino/espresso maker (it could even make decaf cappuccino, but what IS the point).

I hardly sleep at all while there, reading books and drinking very fresh espresso until the early hours...
posted by datawrangler at 12:02 PM on September 21, 2003


Thanks, all, good to know. I usually spend most of my time in the B's or H/J's, and of course I knew that the topics were the reason, but I never looked into the actual names of the categories.

[high school] I like that BJ is "ethics, social usage & ettiquette", and BS is "bible"...[/hs]
posted by mdn at 2:03 PM on September 21, 2003


Once again OCLC drops the non-profit facade and exposes its greedy money-grubbing self. (Don't even get me started on Z39.50....)

I've heard it stated that the Ohio legislature had to pass a special law at some point so that OCLC could maintain its non-profit status — does anyone know if this is correct?

And wouldn't it be cool to have a Creative Commons ontology/classification system that could fork? (Well, you know, unless you were a cataloger.)
posted by IshmaelGraves at 2:25 PM on September 21, 2003


Wow, I didn't even know SCO had bought the Dewey Decimal System!
posted by clevershark at 4:36 PM on September 21, 2003


Thanks Anathema, that link was exactly what I was looking for.
posted by Nothing at 5:43 PM on September 21, 2003


Wow, I didn't even know SCO had bought the Dewey Decimal System!

SCOFilter
posted by oaf at 6:34 PM on September 21, 2003


Ishmael, I think this is anecdotal evidence for the OCLC story you heard. Still not sure if it's true, but some people sure think it is.
posted by jessamyn at 7:28 PM on September 21, 2003


SCOfula.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:58 PM on September 21, 2003


Apparently in a 1984 case OCLC was ruled "not a charitable organization" by the state courts because of its fee structure. In 1985 the Ohio legislature created an exemption for library technology development. Importantly, however, this only applies to "real property" owned by the organization, which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit under federal rules regardless of the state's action.
posted by dhartung at 1:39 AM on September 22, 2003


Thanks, dhartung, I have been looking for solid documentation for that rumor for ages.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 5:26 AM on September 22, 2003


Well, thanks for the heads-up, anyway. We were looking for an interesting place to stay in Manhattan - hip but not faaaaabulous - and this certainly fits the bill. (The fact that the Bickner-Zeldmans tied the knot there is icing on the cake.)

Score another for MeFi.
posted by adamgreenfield at 1:31 PM on September 22, 2003


I much prefer the LOC numbers, myself. They make much more sense.

Anyway, I just had to come back and note that when I went directly from this post to Neil Gaiman's blog, he was talking about his recent stay at the Library Hotel. Gave it a bit of a thumbs down, too.
posted by kayjay at 9:54 PM on September 22, 2003


The numbers don't have to make sense, since all you're doing is using them to find the books you've already looked up in the catalog. If it wasn't for the fact that libraries exchange books with each other, a simple serial number, issued in the order the book was received, would work just as well.
posted by kindall at 11:02 PM on September 22, 2003


No, it wouldn't.

In addition to telling you where to find the book, the purpose of the cataloging schema is to make the attempt at putting similar information near itself.

In most libraries, a book will also receive and assession number as well, but those aren't useful at all to library patrons.

The big problem with Dewey is that it is old and didn't have room for expansion. Thus agricultural topics are over-accommodated and all computer-related topics (something that wasn't even a fantasy when the system was first put in place) get a couple numbers on the fringes. At least with LC, you can always just add a new letter combination (more than 500 top level categories as opposed to 10 with Dewey).
posted by obfusciatrist at 11:49 PM on September 22, 2003


'zactly. When I'm browsing the shelves, I prefer that similar books be grouped together: it creates a cross-breeding environment wherein the book I was looking for leads to other books that interest me.

If the only requirement were to be able to find the book having looked it up in the catalog, the books could be scattered willy-nilly. Arrange them all in alphabetical order of title. Or, what the hell, use a random number generator.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:19 PM on September 23, 2003


If the only requirement were to be able to find the book having looked it up in the catalog, the books could be scattered willy-nilly.

Actually, if this were the case, the books would be arranged and stored by height, and fetched by robots. Less space taken up, fewer people handling them and misplacing them.
posted by jessamyn at 6:07 PM on September 23, 2003


isn't that more or less what they do at the NY Public? Except instead of robots it's librarians...

along with the shelf browsing plus of grouping like with like, if you go to the library to take out a bunch of books on one topic, it's nice not to have to visit every floor as you try to gather them all...
posted by mdn at 6:29 PM on September 23, 2003


The numbers don't have to make sense, since all you're doing is using them to find the books you've already looked up in the catalog.

Actually, I don't usually do it that way. I tend to head for the section of number that would have the selection of books I want. Sure, if I want a specific book I look it up, but more often I am in search of a genre or topic.
posted by kayjay at 7:16 PM on September 23, 2003


putting similar information near itself.

Yeah, come to think of it, that might be useful in some circumstances.

Dewey is t... old and didn't have room for expansion.

It has infinite room for expansion. Just add as many more digits after the decimal point as you need. It doesn't really matter whether obscure topic X has a number of 805.7 or 805.757848925. The numbers perhaps get a bit unwieldy from a human factors standpoint, but everyone already has to write down the darn things anyway to remember them between the catalog and the stacks, so what's a few more digits?
posted by kindall at 8:48 PM on September 23, 2003


by the way, dorky old OCLC, in response to my email chastising them, copied and pasted a copy of their new press release on the matter into an email to me.
posted by jessamyn at 5:07 PM on September 24, 2003


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