noom

By Aram Saroyan

Opinion

Recently, going about daily errands, I came across an ad, on social media and on the radio, for a diet program improbably called noom.

Half a century ago in the sixties, in my minimalist phase as a poet, I came up with a one-word poem: noom.  It was published that year, alone on a page in outsize type, in John Perreault’s little magazine, Elephant. It also appears in my poetry collection The Rest (1971).  When Complete Minimal Poems (which includes noom) was published in 2007, followed by a rave in the New York Times Book Review, it went through four printings and was honored with the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams award.

In recent months I’ve seen noom attributed to me a couple of times on Twitter:

The one below was the result of a class assignment:

 

Here is the advertisement I saw on the internet—noom in the upper left corner with a trademark sign:

 

I’m trying to picture a design team putting their heads together and coming up with noom for a diet program.  Eye-catching?  It’s also not impossible that an ad department or agency, or someone in it, might own a copy of Complete Minimal Poems.

I consulted with several intellectual property lawyers about this corporate grab, for which I receive neither attribution nor remuneration, and they cited the copyright law and the trademark insignia as legal obstacles. The copyright law decrees that a single word can’t be copyrighted.   I’d argue that noom isn’t in the dictionary, and rather is a minimalist invention that utilizes the alphabet. I’ve received both attribution and remuneration for other similar pieces. Such works would require a release from me to be trademarked.

To sum up: A published, copyrighted, widely circulated example of word art should be subject to this protection.

A lawsuit would cost six figures.

Thoughts?

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ARAM SAROYAN is an internationally known poet, novelist, biographer, memoirist and playwright. His poetry has been widely anthologized and appears in many textbooks. Among the collections of his poetry are ARAM SAROYAN and PAGES (both Random House). His largest collection, DAY AND NIGHT:BOLINAS POEMS, was published by Black Sparrow Press in 1999.   Saroyan's prose books include GENESIS ANGELS: THE SAGA OF LEW WELCH AND THE BEAT GENERATION; LAST RITES, a book about the death of his father, the playwright and short story writer William Saroyan; TRIO: PORTRAIT OF AN INTIMATE FRIENDSHIP; THE ROMANTIC, a novel that was a Los Angeles Times Book Review Critics' Choice selection; a memoir, FRIENDS IN THE WORLD: THE EDUCATION OF A WRITER; and the true crime Literary Guild selection RANCHO MIRAGE: AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY OF MANNERS, MADNESS AND MURDER. Selected essays, STARTING OUT IN THE SIXTIES, appeared in 2001, and ARTISTS IN TROUBLE: NEW STORIES in early 2002.    The recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts poetry awards (one of them for his controversial one-word poem "lighght"). Saroyan is a past president of PEN USA West and was a faculty member of the Masters of Professional Writing Program at USC from 1996 to 2011. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, the painter Gailyn Saroyan.

10 responses to “noom”

  1. Hi Aram,

    As far as I know, book titles can’t be copyrighted; but that’s as far as my legalese goes. However, if you have evidence of your books (that include the one word poem, noom) or “comparables” to back you up, then the copyright should cover every individual poem in the book as well.
    If you want, I can give my attorney’s email contact. He became my attorney after his employer & mentor passed away, Robert Cavallo. Mr., Cavallo was my attorney as well. He was considered the pope of copyright law, especially photography issues.
    I’m thinking of branding my name. About 3 years back, my real domain name was stolen by an internet blackmailer. My lawyer said to me, we’ll just switch you over from “com” to “net.” So that’s the new me now, and the fraudster is stuck with former name that can’t go anywhere.

  2. Peter Clough says:

    Aram,
    A voice from the past.
    Query, why bother with this? Only if they were wildly successful and the company decided to cross your palm with silver to make you go away could this be of any material benefit to you. The company’s use of your poem’s name doesn’t seem to me to cause you any damage. Unless you like prolonged litigation and spending money you will likely never recoup, I’d just let it go.
    My credentials: not a lawyer but involved with a large corporation’s protection of software copyright and trademark protection for quite a number of years. Anything they spend defending themselves is tax deductible, to you it’s just out of pocket unless you recover something. Likely they will have deeper pockets than you.
    Nice to see your name….

  3. David Mellon says:

    Hey Aram, I agree w Peter Clough. Let it be. It is a perfect 21st century multinational corporation kind of a tale. Stealing from poets. Use it. Xo

  4. Macia Rodd says:

    I say write to the head of the company, citing your poem and suggesting remuneration wold not be ut of place. Theworst they can say is “no”.

    Hope allis well with you. Things are good inValleyVillage.

    Cheers,

    Marcia

  5. Aram Saroyan says:

    Thanks all—Peter, David, Marcia. I never entertained the idea of suing the corporation. But the law that makes a one-word poem ineligible for copyright shouldn’t apply to an invented word. And a trademark transcends that prohibition. I heard that the designer Mark Jacobs is going to trademark “the.” So it’s new territory that could use some legal straightening out. The corporation behind noom is well-financed, the ads are all over the media. They sponsor “The Moth,” for instance. So my piece is meant to simply put the case on record and perhaps interest an ambitious copyright attorney in a contingency agreement.

  6. Anne Z. Cooke says:

    Hi Aram,

    Anne Z. Cooke here (I’m Steve Haggerty’s wife — the Village Green?) — But I am a journalist, so am familiar with the copyright issue. I would find a lawyer if I were you. But be sure to use one on a contingency basis; your lawyer gets paid only if you win the suit. I think you have a remarkably good case, because the issue of who owns words is so current, driven — it seems to me — by the thousands of individuals and small brands that can reach million by promoting themselves on social media. I liked Gerald Malanga’s advice — call his lawyer; and search the internet for similar lawsuit and other attorneys. If Robt. Cavallo isn’t interested, someone else will be.

  7. Aram Saroyan says:

    Hi Anne (if I may), Many thanks for this. There are indeed other examples of unauthorized appropriations, and no doubt more to come, but this one is by far the best funded so I wanted to get it on record. Would love to confer with you further by email ([email protected]). Hi to Steve!

  8. Victor Bockris author of seventeen books that celebrate visions the counterculture says:

    It’s great to read this now because I’ve been traveling to Vermont to see Bobbie, Hudson to see Gerard and New York to see several friends and I kept noting ads for noom on TV and in print. I wonder whether anybody at noom would recognize the cool experience of being connected to Aram Saroyan, which is a poem in itself, and minimalism. I don’t think the noom people as it were would react positively to a lawsuit. They can tie you up forever, unless you have that rare super intelligent lawyer. But how might they respond to the suggestion your name enhances the product – that its based in poetry? Once that’s established it’s not far away from some kind of recompense, offered rather than demanded.

  9. Aram Saroyan says:

    Thanks so much for weighing in on this, Victor. Have fond memories of our days together beginning with Telegraph. Heard from Gerard that you were expected in Hudson. Hope you’ll be out to L.A. one of these days.

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