The Price of Politeness

There's a familiar saying that may soon become redundant. 'Manners cost nothing' is a refrain that many of us have grown up with, but it seems that we will shortly have to pay a fee now that a California law firm has obtained the intellectual property rights for politeness. We spoke to their Assistant Head of Exaction, Gita Verma.

University of the Bleeding Obvious

Ms Verma, can I say how delighted we are that you agreed to speak to us.

Gita Verma

That's very nice of you to say so. That will be fifty dollars.

UBO

Oh. Right. So that's how it works - whenever anyone is polite, you demand payment?

GV

Yes. Fifty dollars. You will need to pay this now.

UBO

Sorry, yes, here you go.

GV

Your receipt. Yes, payment is due immediately, although you have the option of opening an account. Would you like to do that?

UBO

Um, no.

GV

No what?

UBO

No thank you.

GV

That will be another fifty dollars.

UBO

Oh hell. Ok, here you go. Look, I don't want to appear rude -

GV

Don't you?

UBO

Actually, I suppose I better had if I want to remain solvent. Thing is, what right do you have to charge people to exercise their good manners?

GV

I can show you the relevant legal documentation if you would like to see it?

UBO

Yes I would. Actually, no I wouldn't. There's a moral issue here, the legal side of this is immaterial.

GV

I assure you, if I was to introduce you to our finance director she would say that it's very material. Would you like to see her new car?

UBO

No... Yes, I would... No, listen, you can't just claim ownership of the concept of courtesy.

GV

We very much can.

UBO

You can't monetise manners.

GV

We very much have. It's really no different to any other kind of intellectual property. It's the same as owning the rights to Coca Cola, Batman, Windows 10 or the concept of despair.

UBO

I find it very difficult to... despair? Who owns despair?

GV

Disney.

UBO

Ah. Anyway, as I see it there are two major issues that I'm struggling with here.

GV

I'm sorry to hear that. I'll do my utmost to help.

UBO

That's most kind of you, but I think you've just cost yourself fifty dollars.

GV

I'll charge it to the company account.

UBO

Of course. All right, first point: how can you claim to have a right of ownership to good manners? How can that possibly work?

GV:

It was invented by the firm's founder in 1925. We have already successfully defended this claim in a court of law when an action was taken against us by Microsoft.

UBO

I won't even pretend that I can get my head round that. Second point then, and this really zeros in on the sheer impracticality of this set up: how do you expect to be able to collect your fee? It's not like you can realistically have people monitoring every exchange, every interaction that takes place across the planet every day.

GV

No we can't. But we don't have to. The advantage of dealing with a target group of habitually well-mannered individuals is that they will automatically surrender the required remittance purely out of politeness.

UBO

Ah. Yes. That's really rather neat, I suppose I have to congratulate you on that.

GV

It would be rude not to.

UBO

I guess so. Well Ms Verma, thank you very much for speaking to me.

GV

It's been a pleasure. That will be another fifty dollars.

 


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