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“Estamos bien en el refugio los 33,” it read. “We are well in the refuge – the 33”. This is the phrase that was scribbled on a piece of paper, put into a plastic bag, and hoisted up to the surface as evidence that the trapped miners were alive and well.

Martin Fletcher and Laura Dixon write about how the copyright to these words has now been registered by their author:

The note brought joy to Chile but it can no longer be freely reproduced. It has been copyrighted on behalf of Jose Ricardo Ojeda Vidal, the miner who scribbled it in big red letters.

Pablo Huneeus, a well-known Chilean writer, was moved to act after President Pinera kept the note and flaunted it during his foreign travels.

In London on Monday he presented copies to Queen Elizabeth II and British PM David Cameron, and was expected to do the same in meetings with French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, this week.

“I thought ‘That’s just too much’,” said Mr Huneeus, who went to the Civil Registry Office in Santiago, obtained copies of Mr Ojeda’s birth certificate and national insurance number, then paid pounds 5 to register the sentence as the intellectual property of Mr Ojeda at the Directorate of Libraries, Archives and Museums.

“My point is, Ojeda is owner of the phrase … According to our law, copyright for a creation, invention, song, a piece of art, belongs to the author at the moment he creates it,” Mr Huneeus told The Times. “There’s another aspect here. We have a man that was 625 metres below ground, and up above, a billionaire [Mr Pinera], takes his property and pockets it.

“As for the words themselves, I think they are amazing. I can only compare them to the first words of the Bible … It’s a beautiful sentence. As a writer I would love to have been able to write something so precise and concise as that. It’s the most perfect sentence.”

Having copyrighted the sentence and the image of the note, Mr Huneeus then called the miner to tell him that “now no one can use them without asking his permission”.

He said that Mr Ojeda was “very happy about it. He had seen the T-shirts, cups, the posters that have been cropping up all over the world. He is … very much aware of his rights. He knows what justice is.”

Mr Huneeus said that Mr Ojeda also wanted to recover the original note, which Mr Pinera keeps in his office and considers part of the national heritage. “It’s his property and he wants it back.”

The first of several books – Under the Earth: The 33 Miners that Moved the World – is about to be published. The first television re-enactment will be broadcast in December. Three applications have been made for the internet domain name los33mineros.cl and four for estamosbienenelrefugiolos33.cl.

Some people might feel snooty about this, as if the purity of the rescue had been sullied by this commercialisation. I’m not so sure. There is something very human about this – not the commercialisation in itself, but the fact that raw experiences very quickly become objectified. As soon as we experience something, we are able to reflect on it and question it.

We are never just trapped in the moment; we are always at a certain distance – even as something is taking place. This is part of the self-consciousness that characterises human beings. So it doesn’t surprise me that a spontaneous word very quickly becomes a possession and a commodity. What we then do with that possession is another question entirely.

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