Cory Doctorow Gets Congressional Seal Of Approval

Cory Doctorow Gets Congressional Seal Of Approval

Summary: It's somewhat old news that that Cory Doctorow was named the first holder of USC's Canada-U.S.


It's somewhat old news that that Cory Doctorow was named the first holder of USC's Canada-U.S. Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Public Diplomacy, but this week it became official in a signing ceremony and talk, available as an MP3.  Cory is a creature of the Live Web, which both informs his fiction and helps chart his course (even if it does preclude him from coming up with a succinct description of his "profession").  In the wind up to Cory's remarks, his colleagues point out that the United States Congress had to approve Cory's involvement in the Fulbright program (I assume that's true of all candidates, but not all candidates carry a metal card emblazoned with the Bill of Rights, "sure to spark conversation at the next security checkpoint!"), and that Cory had been in his new position for only a few days before taking his host university to task for its "bizarre, non-legal copyright policy."  I bring it up both to congratulate Cory and to recommend the talk, which provides good historical context for intellectual property disputes arising today, and touches on many issues critical to online activities:

This has become an issue in media studies, as scholars ask how it's possible to create new media using new tools, when the copyright law reflects only the old media and the old tools.  It's generally true that copyright protects an industry and not a culture, and an industry can be defined as what happens when art meets technology.  A non-industrial form of art can't be an industry, almost by definition.  But the problem is that the people who have the industry today view what's being done tomorrow as merely derivative.

Cory Doctorow's Fulbright signing ceremomy(hint:  Cory's the one whose neck can breathe.) 

Topic: ZDNetLive

Denise Howell

About Denise Howell

Denise Howell is an appellate, intellectual property and technology lawyer who enjoys broad industry recognition for her expertise on the intersection of emerging technologies and law.

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  • In other words, "We own it all."

    A form of corrosive capitalism. Where those that have all the leverage use it to their never-ending advantage. Where are our Congressional representatives? Bought by the industries they're supposed to regulate. To quote Elizabeth Warren, "I had people in Congress tell me they had two and three and four...lobbyists come by to see them every single day for months on end. There was no one to lobby for..." the American people. The equation is completely lopsided.
    • If your livelihood depends...

      ... on maintaining control over material so that it does not cease to make money for you as a result of some other person's decision, then yes, you're going to insist upon ownership.

      A new distribution system is a new way to make money, not an overthrow of the way you were making money in the past.

      Like anything, that can be taken too far. But the first principle in transferring rules from one distribution mechanism to another is, first do no harm. Especially to people with their livelihood on the line.
      Anton Philidor
  • So many problems with IP law...

    As someone who has studied IP law under some of the brightest Canadian IP law professors in existence I certainly have an interest in the subject. While the subject can be debated back and forth and to and fro about the various merits of current copyright, trademark and patent laws in North America and beyond, the actual root problems behind the issue is seldom discussed with any seriousness.

    The first thing one MUST come to terms with is that current IP issues as related to IT, and digitized media goes, it comes in two basic flavours; the consumer flavour and the commercial flavour. The commercial problems are of course quite varied in nature and accordingly complex. While there is a whole litany of reasons for the current uproar in commercial IP legal issues, many of them being valid unanswered legal questions, there is a core or root problem that touches on many commercial IP issues with digitized media. That problem is that the courts are severely ill equipped to deal with computer programs and digital media IP issues in general, patents being the worst of the bunch when it comes to computer applications. Patents are supposed to be given out for inventions that are not obvious to a person skilled in the art, yet the thinking that goes into creating many computer applications that have received patents may have been the first such program invented, but certainly the actual code would have been fairly obvious to anyone skilled in the art who put their mind to it.

    It?s rather reminiscent of the ?Pet Rock? sold as a novelty item decades ago. On the one hand, if someone was not a particularly deep thinker they might have thought selling a boxed rock as a novelty gift was a very clever and inventive idea. On the other hand somebody who tends to have a broader perspective in life might have actually been shocked to find out that such a thing would even sell. Particularly as most such people could have thought up such a simple thing if they had of put their mind to novelty gifts at all. Simply put, if you equate deciding to ?do it first? with ?doing something inventive and innovative, not obvious to someone skilled in the art? then you?re going to blow the actual reasoning behind why patents are supposed to be given out. Again and again we see the patent offices and courts just cannot decipher if the program code presented to them truly is an invention that merits a patent or simply someone doing something fairly obvious first.

    As far as the consumer flavour of IP issues goes the root of the problem there is slightly simpler. The public in general has always accepted the fact that it?s probably quite illegal to make cheap copies of someone else?s work and sell it to make a profit. People have often done it but most of them knew there could be trouble if they were caught. The problem is, human beings have never accepted or even followed the notion of not being able to lend trade share or copy without making profits of items that ?they own?. When someone purchases a CD or DVD of any type or kind the producers of that disk may figure they are ?licensing? the purchaser for its use, but they are dreaming. And they can jump up and down and scream and holler all they want but it will never make a touch of difference as it?s not possible to change human nature or thinking that has developed over thousands of years simply by yelling or even taken a few thousand consumers to court out of a world population in excess of seven billion. Common sense tells one that will have a minimal effect if any at all.
    The fact is, when one considers the issues involved with consumer copyright infringement it?s a curious thing as I seem to recall that back when all music was released on vinyl LP records I never went to anyone?s house and seen vinyl LP ?cheap copies? of music. I seem to remember that when Atari released their first gaming console that nobody had ?cheap copies? of Atari game cartridges lying around the house. And the reason why was because these things were released in a format that required actual manufacturing with equipment that even today nobody could afford because of the nature of the actual product sold.

    Back in the mid nineteen eighties a decision was made somewhere down the line to produce digitized media in a format that was seriously cheap to produce, likely to maximize profits. After all, a vinyl LP in 1985 cost about $5.99 where the same CD was selling for often in excess of $20 and it actually cost less and less to produce every year. The media industry decided a very long time ago now that maximizing their profits was worth the risk that for the first time they were buying into a format that would eventually be able to be reproduced by the average consumer. Its clear now that their fallback plan, if they ever had one, was to attempt to try and harass the consumer to death in order to prevent copying and sharing of their products once such reproduction became possible by the public. Little did it matter to them at the time that they would have to attempt to roll back thousands of years of human behavior, they wanted those huge profits digital disks made available to them.

    So in the end, the problems we see today in IP law have no easy solution. Except perhaps the consumer issue may be solved if the media producers opt for a new format that requires a factory to produce, less profit per unit, but hey, I thought they were saying infringement was a costly thing? And as far as the commercial end goes? Maybe its going to take a very serious rethinking about what truly makes an innovative non obvious software application as opposed to just who decided to do it first.