Sunday, June 08, 2014

Hanging Out; Has Copyright Gone Too Far...? And other musings

Before I begin.... for copyright owners and would-be copyright owners who are interested in the future of ICANN, you have an opportunity to let your thoughts be known on Intellectual Property issues
ICANN (the folks who hand out the IP numbers to registrars and internet providers) are asking for comments on various topics, including Intellectual Property issues, in planning their goals for governing the internet over the next 5 years. 

On Thursday, I participated in a Google Hangout as a Tweeting, question-asking, wannabe thorn in the side of those who would return copyright protections to perhaps 14 years.... or at least a term much closer to the time envisioned by the Founding Fathers.

You may view the video here. (I'm not on it.)

The speakers opined that copyright harms most authors, also that any copyright owners who speak up for their rights can be inferred to be paid employees of major corporations. There was some discussion of the harsh statutory penalties available to copyright owners who take copyright infringers to court.

Now, I have covered the gist of the hour-long schmooze between academics, I will proceed to rant.

What the Founding Fathers thought --or may have thought-- is not really relevant to the digital age.
Back then, intellectual property was disseminated through a laborious, time-consuming, and expensive process. Books were written by hand with quill, nib, and inkwell. Binding was expensive. Books were often accessed by subscription, one book at a time, from a for-fee travelling lending library.

There were copyright infringers and plagiarists, but those unimaginative and enterprising souls had to copy that which they wanted to infringe and monetize by hand, exerting considerable time and effort as well. Apparently, Charles Dickens had a problem with such persons.

I assume that in those days, it was highly unlikely that a copyright infringer could create thousands if not millions of perfect illegal duplications of a copyright owner's works and sell it in competition with the expensive legal copies on the very first day that the legal version went on sale.

Of course, that is piracy and plagiarism. These days, a work can and will be pirated and plagiarised while it is under theoretical copyright protection. It can also be lawfully accessed at no cost from a public lending library. On the other hand, books that are out of copyright protection are not necessarily freely available in every possible format.

What really motivates those who want to strip authors of all ages --and their heirs of all ages-- of their intellectual property in as short a time as possible? Really? It's not likely to be "culture", is it? It must be something else, such as the legal ability to exploit the work in "other ways" for their own gain, such as using access to it in order to sell advertising.  Perhaps the professors want to save their students the cost of textbooks.... or maybe they want to mash up and mix other authors' content and create their own compilation works which they will make available to their students, perhaps for a fee.

One of the learned speakers suggested that copyright protection hurts authors. This strikes me as a version of the argument that all authors and musicians and artists should be forcibly stripped of their intellectual property rights because obscure content creators wish to be famous and popular, and see free access to their works as a way out of obscurity.

As for the statutory penalties, whenever those are discussed, it is seldom mentioned that most authors cannot afford to get to court because of the cost of litigation and the great risk that the defendant --if found guilty-- will not have the funds to pay the fines.

The next USPTO forum on copyright issues is June 25th, and the next one is July 29th and 30th.

I'm afraid that I've mentioned the June 25th forum too late for anyone to sign up to attend in person and to speak, but there is time to participate on July 29th.

A Press Release about the series of consultations with the public can be found here:

"The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Internet Policy Task Force will host roundtable discussions in cities around the country on several copyright Internet policy topics, as part of the work envisioned in the Green Paper. The purpose of the roundtables is to engage further with members of the public on the following issues: (1) the legal framework for the creation of remixes; (2) the relevance and scope of the first sale doctrine in the digital environment; and (3) the appropriate calibration of statutory damages in the contexts of individual file sharers and of secondary liability for large-scale infringement. The roundtables, which will be led by USPTO and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), will be held in Nashville, TN on May 21, 2014, Cambridge, MA on June 25, 2014, Los Angeles, CA on July 29, 2014, and Berkeley, CA on July 30, 2014."

And, about participating and/or listening in

"Requests to participate and observe are due three weeks in advance of each of the respective roundtables. While the Task Force may not be able to grant all requests, it will seek to maximize participation to the extent possible. The agendas and webcast instructions will be available approximately one week prior to each meeting on the Task Force website and the USPTO website at "

Finally, for those who want grist for the mill, here is a handy link to a directory of mostly pirate sites.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

PS. I am still reading fanFICtion by Anne Jamieson

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