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The Yellow Rubber Duck and Yuanzai: A Tale of Two Cuties

Media reports on Saturday indicate that Florentijn Hofman, the Dutch artist who designed the world famous floating yellow rubber duck, was infuriated at alleged copyright violations of his work in the Taiwan market. According to Hofman's team, the Keelung exhibition organizer's goods, such as miniature balloons in the shape of the duck, were a gross commercialization of his work.

At the same time, Yuanzai, the beloved panda whose growth milestones have been documented, disseminated and gawked at by an enamored country, offers a contrast with the rubber duck in terms of the icon's promotion.

One real animal icon, one inanimate animal icon. Their introductions to this island have incidentally raised questions about the appropriate usage of intellectual property. Benefit to society should especially be counted toward an assessment of whether spontaneous portrayal is acceptable, and to what degree.

It is obvious though, that there is overreaction on Hofman's part in his complaints against the organizers of the Keelung exhibition. In condemning the “commercial circus” of what he saw in Taiwan, Hofman risks tarnishing the lovable legacy of the yellow rubber duck.

Furthermore, it is by no means certain that Hofman's claim to an intellectual patent is valid. Jeremy Fan, the organizer of the Keelung exhibition, came out on Sunday to fire back in response to Hofman's accusations. Fan answered Hofman's allegations of having been mistreated by saying that Hofman and his family stayed at a hostel at his own request on one trip and stayed at an expensive hotel during another, according to the United Evening News on Sunday.

More importantly, Fan says that according to his research the artist had intellectual patents on the duck in neither mainland China nor Taiwan. Most people have basic knowledge of the yellow rubber duck because it was already a common symbol in the toy industry before Hofman created the huge 16-meter version. Fan claims that the duck was in existence as early as 150 years ago. The first rubber ducky was patented in 1886, a fact that would corroborate Fan's claim.

“If people want the real duck, they have to come to me,” Hofman told the Wall Street Journal when he discussed a duck that appeared in Wuhan, China. By contrast, the Taipei City Government's generosity in laying out the conditions for usage of Yuanzai demonstrates a much more reasonable and accessible spirit, although patenting Yuanzai's image is still problematic because who gave a government entity the rights to an animal? Our claims to anything outside the human sphere have to take into consideration their functional necessity for human activities, rather than our feelings of inherent entitlement to anything in nature.

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