Archive for the 'Intellectual Property' category

Empty Rhetoric: "Intellectual Property Is Property!"

Apr 30 2007 Published by under Intellectual Property

One of my pet peeves is when, in an attempt to help convey to others the seriousness of respecting copyrights, patents, and trademarks, somebody says, "Intellectual property is property!" This is often followed by an emotional appeal that just as you would hesitate before breaking into somebody's house and stealing their TV, you should also hesitate before passing on a digital file.

Often, people then respond, "but if I take the TV, you don't have it any more. If I copy a digital file, you still have the digital file!"

I have very rarely, if ever, seen a considered counter to that response. Most often, what I see are expressions of disgust, lamentations that "kids these days" don't respect how much work and creativity goes into making the copied work in the first place, reminders that while the copy may be free, the original production was not, etc.

But the fact is, this response makes it very clear that physical property (like a TV) and intellectual property (like a recording of a song) are not exactly the same thing. Any argument based on the equivalence of the two is either going to lead to thoughtless jingoism (which I so often see on the side of the copyright maximalists) or thoughtful dismissal.

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32 responses so far

It does help to have the entire blogosphere on your side

Apr 26 2007 Published by under Academia, Intellectual Property, Rant

I guess we should excuse Wiley now, because they've backed down from pointing their lawyers at Shelly

Potential cynic that I am, I have several residual thoughts on the issue.

Thought #1: I really want to believe what was in the apology letter sent to Shelly: it was a misunderstanding inadvertently caused by a junior member of the staff. I want to believe that had it been calmly brought to the attention of the Director of Publications by a single person (say, Shelley), that an apology letter would have been generated. But I'm having a hard time believing that. Perhaps I'm being unfair to Wiley and to the Society of Chemical Industry here, but I suspect that what really happened was that there was an eruption in the blogosphere, including from the high-profile blog BoingBoing, and lots of letters were generated. Wiley's response was, "OMG, what bad publicity! Retreat!" I know it's uncharitable to think that, but that is what I think.

Thought #2: at which point I start to feel sorry for this junior member of the staff who is being said to have made the mistake. Did she really make the mistake? Or was she implementing company policy, and is now being the designated fall-guy when things went south? I remember thinking the same things about private Lynndie England's high-profile case about torture at US-run prison Abu Ghraib; notice that no senior officers anywhere were charged.

Thought #3: but I also wonder what would have happened if Shelly wasn't here at scienceblogs.com, and if she didn't have a forum full of sympathetic, easily outraged bloggers who all like her. She posted that she was getting lawyergrams; we all got outraged. That was enough of a nucleation to send off things elsewhere into the blogosphere, including to the aforementioned BoingBoing. But the issues are larger than this one incident. This kind of copyright lawyergram, where some large interest asserts that it has more rights than it really does under the law, happens all the time. The small party usually has to put up and shut up, becuase they can't afford to defend themselves. Yay to the blogosphere for coming to Shelly's defense on this one, but let's not drop it and say "happy ending." The system is rotten, and Shelly may be one of the lucky ones for having people to defend her.

Thought #4: Boo to the blogosphere! Or not the blogosphere specifically, but to some individuals in the penumbra of the blogosphere who are a festering problem in cases like this. Notice this one excerpt from the apology letter sent to Shelly: "She has been most distressed by some abusive emails that she has received on this matter.".

Shelly's original call to action very clearly indicated that she was hoping people would send polite letters. Alas, the Great Unwashed on the Internet always include a large number who think that sending abusive letters will somehow help. I remember in the early 90's, when I was an Amiga fanatic, that computer columnists wouldn't take the Amiga community seriously. Why? Because if they wrote anything critical, they'd receive a huge number of letters, some of them highly immature and critical. The same thing happens with the Linux community now. The president of the AAS told us in a recent newsletter that part of the reason one of the higher-ups at NASA has a very poor view of astronomers in general is that he's been receiving some very abusive mails from astronomers.

Personal attack letters don't help, often are directed at the wrong target anyway, and only help to convince people that there is not a real viewpoint to be taken seriously, but that there are whining children who've been told that they can't have ice cream.

7 responses so far

Blogging at Lawyerpoint : Intellectual Property Maximalism is Bad for Science

Apr 25 2007 Published by under Academia, Intellectual Property, Rant

Fair use? If it benefits the progress of science or the dissemination of scientific knowledge, it really ought to be fair use, no matter what. But when it's cropping out a piece of a figure for an illustration in an article about a scientific result, with that result fully cited, it fully is fair use, even under the shrinking domain that remains within USA copyright law. Alas, when you are an individual graduate student, and the entity asserting that you're violating their copyright, knowledge that you are well within fair use is little comfort when you're faced the travesty that is our civil justice system and the publishing company's phalanx of lawyers.

Perhaps it is of some help if you have the entire blogosphere on your side, ridiculing the publishing company for their stupid assertion and generally heaping scorn on this company for their awful and borderline unethical behavior.

The situation is doubtless one you're already well aware of as a scienceblogs reader. Science blogger Shelly Batts wrote a piece about a scientific paper that has been presented in the media as "alcohol is good for you.". Shelly went and looked at the actual paper, looked at the results, and posted her own analysis. Unsurprisingly, things weren't quite as clear cut as the media hype. Shelly's take on it did not quite have the spin of the press releases put out by the publishers of the article. In her article, she used one panel of one figure from the paper.

The result? Shelly gets a lawyergram from Wiley insisting that she's violated their copyright by reproducing their figure, and that she had better take down her post or face legal action.

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4 responses so far

The Voodoo Theory of Trademarks

Mar 21 2007 Published by under Intellectual Property

I love the way Cory Doctorow expresses it in this BoingBoing post:

Now, whenever I write about trademarks, I get a bunch of emails asserting the voodoo theory of trademark: every conceivable use of a trademark has to be policed aggressively or you'll lose your trademarks forever. It's just not true. A trademark isn't the right to tell people what words they can use when they talk, and it isn't the right to tell dictionaries which words they're allowed to define. Voodoo trademarkism is a fairy tale that trademark lawyers tell their kids at night to reassure them that they'll have a healthy college fund.

Trademarks of the third of the "intellectual property" trio that I tend to worry about the least. (Patents are the most dangerous, copyrights being a close second— not because either are inherently bad, necessarily, but because both are horribly misused, and misused with an air of extreme self-righteousness, in our society today.)

This comes from an article about how McDonald's is trying to get the colloquialism "McJob" removed from the Oxford English Dictionary. Part of their argument seems to be that it's offensive....

This fits in nicely with Ed's Is Everyone a Victim? meme. (Can I use the word meme in the general sense if it isn't a blog game?) I mean, if McDonalds, one of the most powerful and indeed nomative McCorporations out there, can be all poor and oppressed and mistreated, then who can't?

10 responses so far

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