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Friday, 17 August, 2001, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
How to copyright yourself
Filmstars are being encouraged to patent their own DNA to stop anyone stealing their identity to make a clone. BBC News Online's Chris Horrie - worried about a similar threat to himself - tried to register himself.

"EveryOne a Designer Original" - that's the slogan of the DNA Copyright Institute. It strikes a chord. Throughout my life I have been repeatedly advised: "When they made you - pal - they threw away the mould".

Here's one we made earlier...
There must be millions of people around the globe, I therefore reasoned, who are gagging for my genes and so urgent steps were needed to protect them.

I started with the Institute's website which promised to furnish me (or my lawyer) with a "Personal DNA Profile and Pattern which cannot be duplicated in printed, electronic, photographic, or biological form."

'Are you mad?'

The first step was to make an online down-payment of $1,500, followed by an ominous-sounding process called "sample collection". Nothing would happen, it was emphasised, until the cash was handed over.

genetic material
Taking a sample
I decided to give this a miss and organise the process myself.

The first problem was getting a proper print out of my personal DNA. I tried St Mark's Hospital in Harrow, one of the country's leading centres for genetic diagnosis and analysis.

The head of the DNA lab was baffled. "Why do you want to do this?" she asked. "Do you think there's something wrong with you?"

Not exactly.

Embarrassed by the essential egotism of my request, I said I wanted a complete print out of my DNA "just out of curiosity"- adding that I was ready and able to supply a sample - lump of snot, toe-nail clipping or whatever - by express motorcycle messenger if need be.

Monkey business

It was explained that - for a host of technical, financial and ethical reasons - this could not be done on the NHS.

Just browsing... genes under the microscope
My best bet, it was suggested, was to contact the Human Genome Project and volunteer as a sort of guinea pig.

Then, putting the problem of obtaining a DNA profile on to the back-burner, I called the Patent Office to make sure that I would be able to register myself once I had persuaded the Scientists of the Genome to scan me or whatever it was.

More problems.

A spokesperson doubted that my DNA would be accepted as unique, since as much as 90% of the pattern was shared with monkeys - if anything it could be argued that I had stolen my persona from them, and so I might end up having to mount a massive class action against the population of London Zoo.

What a rip-off!
Also, to get my patent, I would have show a clear "technological application" - such as evidence that by throwing myself into a vat of deadly chemicals, I could catalyse some sort of useful chemical reaction.

Another difficulty was that I would have to prove that I was "novel at the time of making the application" - meaning that nobody had ever heard of me or seen me doing whatever result of being Chris Horrie it was that was worth copyrighting.

The only other option was to pass off my genes as a work of art, literature, drama or sculpture.

This, the office thought, might be the way to go. But it could only apply to any documents on which my gene pattern was written and not the genes themselves.

Something must be done!

Even then it would be hard to copyright a sheet of computer print-out possibly several miles long if it represented a complete, unique DNA print out.

I don't know about America, but there is absolutely no chance that this would stand up in a British court of law

UK Patent Office spokesperson
Frustrated by now, I turned to the Copyright Licensing Agency. This body describes itself as the country's main Reproduction Rights Organisation - and reproduction was what I was interested in.

But - alas - the authority mainly deals with the law on photocopying books. Not much use to me unless somebody started putting my stolen genetic material through a photocopier and attempted to clone me in this more limited way.

So, for the time being at least, anyone thinking of surreptitiously obtaining a sample of genetic Chris Horrie material (experts say that spittle routinely left on the receiver after a phone call will do) and then producing an army of super-intelligent zombie-clones - for whatever devious purpose they may have - can do so with legal impunity.

Surely our legal system should be reformed to prevent this nightmare ever coming to pass?

See also:

15 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
US firm offers stars DNA copyright
08 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Human cloning sparks fierce debate
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