More MS news articles for Oct 2001

Keeping your DNA all in the family

By Joanna Pearlstein
Red Herring
October 12, 2001

This article is from the October 1, 2001, issue of Red Herring magazine.

Say you're Madonna. (Just say.) A zealous fan with money to burn pilfers your DNA from a stray hair that comes his way. Twenty years later, you see your clone dressed in black lace singing "Burning Up" on MTV.

It might seem unlikely, but the San Francisco-based DNA Copyright Institute (DNACI) thinks it's a legitimate concern. In August, the company unveiled its service, which targets primarily celebrities -- actors, athletes, and models -- who feel the need to prevent unauthorized reproduction of their genetic maps.

Company officials say the advent of cloning technology could lead to trading in celebrity DNA. Copyrighting your genetic map will provide you with legal recourse in case that copyright is infringed, says Andre Crump, the company's president and founder. The odds that a clone would be created to copy a celebrity's career? "It's not completely likely," says Mr. Crump. "What's more probable, and much more possible, is that someone who's extremely attractive or intelligent is cloned, and no one would know that person is a clone. We think that's extremely likely."


The DNACI is betting on a line in the U.S. Copyright Act that states that copyright protection applies to "original works of authorship." Rather than copyrighting DNA outright, the company records the pattern of an individual's DNA, which Mr. Crump says "is as original as you can get in human biology."

To copyright your DNA pattern, you pay the DNACI $1,500 and have a doctor or a laboratory take a sample. Unless customers request it, DNACI does not submit the DNA pattern to the U.S. Copyright Office -- a repository for copyrighted material. "That's because different people feel differently about DNA databases being used by government and insurance companies," says Mr. Crump. "We're just maintaining confidentiality." The company's Web site says, "Fortunately, [customers] do not have to proceed with federal registration in order to guarantee copyright protection."

The Copyright Office begs to differ. "The office has never registered a copyright claim in a person's DNA," says Robert Dizard, the office's staff director. "Copyright does not protect a person's DNA, because it is not an original work of authorship." Mr. Crump says he agrees, emphasizing the company's focus on DNA patterns. But Mr. Dizard adds: "The only certificates of copyright registration that have any legal status are certificates issued by the Copyright Office."

Mr. Crump isn't a lawyer or a scientist. He's a former marketing executive -- an alumnus of Apropos Technology, Citadon, and Sun Microsystems, among others -- who's also the author of Everything I Know About Dating I Learned in Business School. Mr. Crump says he's put less than $50,000 of his own money into the company and that "the path to profitability is short. We see a very long and bright future for this type of service." Madonna, Andre Crump is waiting for your call.

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