It’s a good old fashioned fossil fight! OK, if you’ve never seen a fossil fight before, you’re not alone. That’s because the very first copyright claim for a dinosaur skeleton has been forced into settlement talks. We always hear about copyright in movies and music, have even heard about it in regard to Beyonce’s dance moves – but dinosaur bones, particularly the fossil castings, is something completely new to copyright.

According to Canadian Business, the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research argued that Fort Peck Paleontology of Montana used its castings without their permission. Castings are essentially fossil replicas, used in museum displays.

Black Hills made castings of two tyrannosaurus rexes, which they named Stan and Sue. Fort Peck, it’s alleged, then used those castings to fill out their own t-rex, and made money from selling the replicas.

So how much would ripping off your t-rex castings cost you? Black Hills wants $22 million!

Black Hills says that while they (obviously) don’t own the copyright over the t-rex, they own the castings. While this sounds weird, it does hold up for the most part. Copyright protects expression, not ideas. A million people could have the same idea, but express it in entirely different ways – and that’s acceptable. The castings are “expressions” of the ideas of a t-rex skeleton. Although, I’m not sure how much expression goes into replicating the skeleton of something that used to be a living thing. Still, the argument isn’t about whether Black Hills should be entitled to the copyright over the castings, but rather how much money Fort Peck actually made off of using them.

I’ve always said that every lawsuit should be expected to settle. Clearly this one gets added to the list. Although it would have been interesting to see the first copyright lawsuit over fossils actually get decided.

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