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Re: A moral question

  • Subject: Re: A moral question
  • From: "Bill Meyer" <njhosta@hotmail.com>
  • Date: Tue, 16 Mar 2004 13:01:08 -0500

Dearest Chick YIS and Dan too,
       Nice try, confusing the issue was worth a shot but it really doesn't
cut it. Let's start with the basics, OK?
       First, let me say that most end purchasers (your customers) probably
are under the impression that the hybridizer gets a share of the money they
pay for the plant. If a TC plant costs $3 to produce (publicly available
information these days) and it is offered for sale at the retail level for
$25-40, then most end purchasers are just assuming that the hybridizer is
getting some part of that price. It works that way with everything else in
their lives. Books, movies, software, music, food, clothing, cars,
electronics, etc., etc., - all have some part of the purchase price going to
the originator. Often these are patent-holders, but equally often they are
copyright holders. To straighten you out a little here, the retailer (what
you are) is not the one responsible for handling the royalty for the
originator. This is done by the manufacturer, who includes this in the price
to their retail customers. Neither retailers or their customers are normally
involved directly in the royalty-paying transaction.
       Second, most hybridizers, including myself, are not business people.
Most of us do it as a hobby, and really don't have much knowledge as to how
much an agreement needs to be nailed down in every particular to make sure
that we are not cheated. We have made many foolish or incomplete agreements
that have been mercilessly exploited by real businesspeople who are fully
familiar with the laws and loopholes. We make many foolish assumptions about
the honesty and morality of the people we are entering agreements with. We
are easily confused, even though many of us are intelligent members of a
variety of demanding professions with high levels of education, by the
remarkable ability of some business people to hit us with various
"interpretations" of right and wrong. We are sheep being led to the knives,
and the fleecing is sure to come with no protecting laws to stop it. We also
don't like to admit that we are so easily taken advantage of, but that's
another story.
       Third, people who write, take photos, create music, and other such
endeavors have routine protection under the laws, and hybridizers mostly
start out foolishly assuming that they do too. It's hard to grasp that there
really is no protection (other than plant patents, which are geared for
larger markets only) and that we are at the mercy of the manufacturers. I
won't say how wonderful it is to be depending on the mercy of
businesspeople. I don't think it takes a lot of thinking to see how these
other creative people came to have laws that protect them, but if businesses
were fair and honest would there be a need for those laws? Are most business
people fair and honest by nature? Do we really need so many laws to govern
their conduct, or can we just trust them to do the right thing? If you've
ever had dealings with insurance companies, I think you know the answer to
those questions.
      Lastly, we are currently in a situation in which there are no laws yet
on the books which require a plant manufacturing business to offer any
royalties to the person whose plant they are manufacturing and selling to
retailers, save for the plant patent laws, which are clearly inadequate. I
think this will probably change in time, as lawmakers just love making new
laws, and the conduct of businesses where there are no laws covering what
they do is usually just not good enough. I would agree that it is often a
case of the few spoiling it for the rest, and that many businesses can
operate honestly without laws to regulate them. There will always be
dishonest businesses in the game however, and we both know that. As business
dealings become more public, I think they will improve at all levels.

    Now to get to your real point:

"If I buy your plant, it is mine, and unless it is patented or we have come
to some kind of agreement, I can do what I want with it."

   This is basically the crux of your argument (Andrew's too), right? The
point being that there is no legal protection for me, so you can do whatever
you wish. If I had a photo you wanted to use on your website, or a written
description you wanted to use, or virtually anything else you had need of
for your business for that matter, then I would have legal protection. You
would be required to deal with me under the terms of those laws. If a
picture, you would need to specify what rights you wanted to buy - just
paying for it isn't enough.  The responsibilty would lie with you to make a
clear and fair statement of what you want it for and what rights you want to
purchase. If you don't think this is true, try it some time with a stock
photography agency. I saw it tried once and the outcome was a $10,000 fine
for the business that did it. In essence, the power you would have over my
property is limited, because the law backs me up.
    The way things are now, of all the things you need to do business, only
the plants you buy (save for the few patented ones) are available to you
without any legal restrictions. They are the only things where you can just
take whatever liberties you want to take, because the hybridizers have no
legal rights to their own property. While this is something you gleefully
celebrate, it is not such a great deal for those on the receiving end.
    So, we're back where we started with this. This discussion has nothing
to do with what's legal and what isn't. That is written in the law books for
all to see. Some of the other people reading this may not know, but we in
this discussion all do. This discussion began with the moral and ethical
issues at root in the "Moral Question" in the subject line. You are legally
allowed to take full advantage of the unprotected hybridizers, so there is
only the question of ethics.
    There has been unethical conduct from some manufacturers in the past.
Not just a little bit either. There's been some from a few hybridizers too.
The point I was making was that the more public business gets, the more
honest it will be before the laws finally change to close off this loophole.
Without that change, many of the agreements don't even carry much weight,
even though they are in writing. Most unethical business people fear
exposure and will behave much better under public scrutiny than they will if
they can operate in the dark. Everyone knows who the crooks are in a small
town, but they can hide pretty well in the big city. Whatever their
rationalizations, they know what they are doing will get them into trouble
if everyone can see it.
    Glen's original proposition was essentially a way to make public the
arrangement between a manufacturer and the hybridizer, by adding a tag
stating in effect that the hybridizer approves the selling of the plant.
That their rights to their property were publicly recognized by the
manufacturer and that they are receiving what they consider a fair
recompense when the plant is sold. I don't think the manufacturers would go
for it, but it would be nice if they did. I guess I'm just too cynical to
think that businesses would be agreeable to an ethical approach that they
weren't forced into by law. As you say, it is currently up to the hybridizer
to try to put a deal together with one of the honest manufacturers, and they
are on their own in the business jungle. Fair is after all just a weather
                                                 .......Bill Meyer

> Bill Meyer wrote:
>   Hi Narda,
>          I don't think I implied that all nursery people were crooks.
> My Dear Bill,
> It seems to me that that's exactly what you are saying.
> Do you even read what you write? In your reply to me you tried to prove
> your point with examples of people who cheated others by not living up to
> agreements.  Thieves and people who break contracts, even oral contracts,
> are not moral people and I have never defended such people, and such
> people cannot be defended, and such people were not the topic of your
> original argument.
> If I understand your original argument as a whole (which I never claim to
> do), it is that it is unfair for a nurseryman to propagate a plant
> without paying the hybridizer a royalty, even though there is no
> obligation to do so and there is no mechanism to do so, and throughout
> the history of plant propagation there has never been any thought that it
> was a necessary part of doing business. If that's not what you are
> saying, just what is your point?  This has nothing to do with thieves and
> liers, and the fact that thieves and liers cannot be defended does not
> prove your theory.
> Let me quote you to yourself:
> "If you have a nursery and you take from the hybridizers and do not give
> a fair share for what is either their find or their invention, then the
> quickly spreads that you're a greedy dishonest seller to be avoided at all
> costs."
> What does that mean?  I assumed that you thought that a hybridizer should
> be compensated for any of his plants that are propagated and sold, even
> when there is no legal obligation to do so.  If this is not what you are
> claiming, then there is no argument.  If you are saying that people who
> agree to pay you for your plant and then don't are scum, I agree
> totally.  The problem with your lament is that it's up to you to get
> compensated.  I have no obligation to you unless we have an agreement of
> some kind.  If I buy your plant, it is mine, and unless it is patented or
> we have come to some kind of agreement, I can do what I want with it.
> There is no mention in your statement about agreements, patents,
> contracts, or whatever being disregarded, so I could only assume that you
> were saying that anyone who obtains your plant and profits from it is a
> greedy, dishonest seller unless they find some way to send you some
> money.  I admit I had to put myself in that group, along with every other
> hosta grower that I know.  The only ones I could exclude would be those
> who sell only thier own hybrids, or found some way to pay every
> hybridizer for every plant propagated.  This last group has a population
> of zero.  I guess I would also have to throw in daylily growers, growers
> of non-patented roses, growers of .... oh, you get the picture.  Now, if
> not all nursery owners are greedy and dishonest, name me a nursery that
> doesn't fall within your definition.
> Anyone who ever sold a Herb Benedict introduction, or one of Mildred's,
> or the Lachman's, or Paul Aden's would obviously fall into that class
> also, because in all the years that all of us have been propagating
> hostas, none of us has ever paid a hybridizer anything unless there was
> an agreement to do so.  And to be fair to nursery people, since you and
> everybody else knew this was the case, are the people who grew these
> plants knowing of the sad state of affairs less guilty?  Did you ever
> send Herb his quarter?  How could you, in good consiense, grow that plant
> when you knew Herb had been cheated by some greedy dishonest seller that
> you knowingly dealt with in order to get his plant?  Shame! Is there no
> moral obligation for educated consumers?  Apparently not until they
> become hybridizers and can't figure out how to make a buck from it.  So
> instead of taking it upon yourself to profit from your plant under the
> system that has always been there, you want to change the rules. If your
> plant is good enough, and you work at it, you can profit from it if you
> make the effort.  Why don't you start a little business of your own and
> put some of these theories about how honest businessmen should work to
> the test.
> In fact, the examples in your reply to me show that there is already a
> solution to your problem, you apparently just don't want to use it.  If
> you can't do it yourself, you have someone else do it for you, under an
> agreement.  We all know there are dishonest people amongst us, as there
> are everywhere.  But you know that I'm not dishonest, Ran's not
> dishonest, Tony's not dishonest, there are any number of people you can
> work with who are not dishonest. I've been in this business 25 years and
> I can't recall ever making an agreement with another grower who cheated
> me.  If you enter into an agreement with someone who doesn't do what they
> say they will, I'd say you got cheated, but that doesn't mean you can
> snap your fingers and change the whole system just because you might deal
> with the wrong person. This is a business, not a hobby, and businesses
> work by rules.  And as hard-hearted as it seems, they don't just give
> money to people because they feel sorry for them.  That's charity. I
> sympathize with people who are cheated or who get nothing for their
> efforts, but to put it bluntly, that's their own fault.  Either they
> dealt with the wrong person or they didn't make an effort to work within
> the system. There is a way for you to be compensated for your efforts,
> and if you don't want to take advantage of it then keep your prize hosta
> in your garden.  You can make up all the new rules you want, it won't
> change anything.
> As always,
> Chick
>   Some of
>   them are, but that's true in most walks of life. There is an unusual
>   situation for ornamental hybridizers in that they have no reasonably
>   available protection for their work.
>   Because they have no legal protection other than the too-expensive plant
>   patent, they frequently receive little or nothing from the people who
>   propagate and sell their plants. It is a shame of the industry just how
>   little of the money that has been made actually went to the people who
>   created the
>   plants.
>          With most things that you buy, a percentage goes to the person
>   made it, wrote it, invented it, designed it, etc. With hostas and other
>   plants, the originator usually sees virtually nothing in return on their
>   plant. The situation is improving somewhat from a truly embarassing
>   but there is still no legal protection. I think the more public business
>   gets the more honest it will get. If you went to Gardenwatch.com, you'll
>   some real nasty businesses to deal with, but most were rated a positive
>   experience. Even all of Chick's seven customers went there to give
>   him a positive rating. :-)
>   ...........Bill
>     In a message dated 3/15/2004 10:36:18 AM Eastern Standard Time,
njhosta@hotmail.com     writes:
>     Last I heard he was in jail, and the people he cheated were
>     still trying to get back the plants he owed them.
>     Bill, I heard that hostas wasn't the only thing that he grew.  And he
>   needed
>     money to feed a bad habit he had acquired!  One thing leads to another
>   he
>     became dishonest.
>     The notion that because one person is dishonest does not make the
>   group
>     crooks.  I am sure that you know that.
>     Narda
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