Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Copyright and Intellectual Property

I have long been interested in intellectual property (or IP) issues. Back in college, I took an intro to tech course which had a large section on IP. I remember writing a few papers on it.

The issues have changed a lot over the last 20 years. Today the radio show Marketplace had a piece on copyright. Obviously, we need to protect IP. The problem is these protections can be abused to stop true innovation.

When this country was founded you could get copyright on your works for only 14 years. That length has been repeatedly increased. It's a bit confusing, but you can see a table of the lengths of copyright on types of work and how they vary based on publication date and whether it is individual or corporate ownership here.

Now call me crazy, but I don't think most authors are going to quit creating if they can only profit from their work until 70 years after they die. 14 years used to be fine and we had all kinds of classic work published. Many of these extensions have been pushed by corporations, notably Disney pushed for an extension when the copyright on Mickey Mouse was about to expire.

Now a good reform is that you don't need to register a work to get a copyright...it exists by the creation of the work. All my photos are copyright by me. If another website reposts them, I can send a takedown notice if I want. This blog entry is my IP as well. Blogger even states this in its terms of service: "Google claims no ownership or control over any Content submitted, posted or displayed by you on or through Google services. You or a third party licensor, as appropriate, retain all patent, trademark and copyright to any Content you submit, post or display on or through Google services and you are responsible for protecting those rights, as appropriate." Although the JT does not claim copyright of your work, they do have some things they claim they can do with it.

  • You are granting us a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, unrestricted, worldwide license to use, copy, modify, transmit, sell, exploit, create derivative works from, distribute and or display such Submission, in whole or in part, in any manner or medium now known or hereafter developed.
  • You automatically waive any claim that any use of such content violates any of your rights, including privacy rights, publicity rights, moral rights or any other right, including the right to approve the way we use such content.

  • In other words, once you post they can take it and do what they want with it (they also mention not posting work that you don't own but we all know that is rarely enforced there).

    Another big issue is patents. Used to be you had to invent something to patent it, but now things that hardly qualify as inventions get patents (I am looking at you and one click shopping, Bezos). There is a practice called patent trolling where companies are formed strictly to buy as many patents cheap and the try to find anything that might violate it (usually in very questionable ways) and sue.

    Then there is the whole problem of orphan works. These are works that are still under copyright but due to corporate mergers, aquisitions, bankruptcies and buyouts, no one knows who owns it so the work is not available in any form and you can't buy it even if you want to.

    So if you can't tell, I think the whole IP system is messed up by corporate interests and is desperately in need of reform. We hear politicians talk about the need to spur innovation...well cleaning up the IP laws in this country would further that goal a lot more than tax cuts but we don't hear a thing about it.


    SER said...

    Boppster, your article reminds me of a guy I met years ago.

    Remember when the “striker” for a pac of matches was on the front? You could open the matches and lite the match without closing the cover. Many times I had a pac of matches flash up because of a spark.

    This guy invented/made the coolest little holder for matches so when you opened the matches a little safety door would cover the striker. You had to close the cover to lite the match.

    He no sooner applied for patents and started having metal stamping dies made, and the match companies moved the striker to the back of the pac!

    Needless to say, he wasn’t a happy camper!

    OrbsCorbs said...

    I never really thought about the impact of patents and intellectual property rights on commerce. More things to worry about.

    hale-bopp said...

    That's one of the simpler ways IP issues can affect design decisions, SER, but a good example that is easy to understand. When you get into software patents, things can get really technical and hard to understand quickly.

    There is a tension between patent holders who try to write applications that are very broad and people who design and innovate that want to limit the scope of patents. I tend to go for a more limited patent that must cover a very specific new invention. If you apply for a patent and the "invention" you are claiming is already used in iPods or some other common device, well, then your "invention" isn't something new but rather the idea of trying to patent it and make money off of licensing. That's related to the patent troll issue.

    IP issues are one of those things that might seem obscure, arcane and complicated, but they effect out day to day lives much more than most people realize.

    What if Sony Corp Vs Universal City Studios (aka the Betamax case) was decided the other way? This case established that you have the right to record television shows for time shifting. A pretty basic right that we all take for granted now, but in 1984, it was an open legal question.

    Now we are dealing with Digital Rights Management (DRM) protections on music, CDs and DVDs and many of the draconian provisions of the Digital Mellineum Copyright Act (DMCA), weird provisions buried in software license agreements and the Terms of Service of websites (did you know that in Google's terms of service it states you must be of legal age to enter a contract to use the service...in other words, everyone under 18 using Google is violating the TOS).

    As long as most people are ignorant of these issues, industries and lobbyists will write the laws...and given the choice of writing them for their profits or the benefit of the consumer, I am betting they go for their own profits (see the crazy proposal I recently railed against requiring all cell phones to have FM radios).

    kkdither said...

    For awhile there, JT thought that they owned the rights to everything published out of Racine. Threats were made to several local blogs, including this one, about potential litigation for stepping on their right to be the only piece of shit publisher in this town.

    The threats have ceased and desisted when no one cowered at their advances. Now, they just come to our sites to generate (directly steal) their next newsworthy item of the day.

    hale-bopp said...

    As if on cue, today I see that Florida State University sent a cease and desist to Southeast High School in Bradneton due to their high school teams being the Seminoles. I used to live in Bradenton and went to events at Southeast.

    They make an interesting point...they used to not worry about high schools, but not that their games are on ESPN and you can buy their stuff online, they are being more aggressive enforcing their trademarks. Still, I question how many people will get them mixed up!