25 May 2012

Dictatorships, Emerging Democracies, and Authors

... are more closely related than you might think.

  • A reporter at The New Yorker explains why he is "Leaving Facebookistan." Unfortunately, Mr Coll neglects the main reason I've never visited Facebookistan: I actually read the terms of use. That's not to say that all terms of use are enforceable; it's only to say that I won't do business with a company that espouses the disdain Zuckerberg and his minions have for customer interests as reflected in those terms of use. It's one thing to say that Micro$oft refuses to be held responsible if your use of Office results in corruption of your data or hard disk (a disclaimer of dubious validity in any event); it's another thing entirely to claim all copyright, trademark, right of publicity, and everything else imaginable in everything about one's customers.
  • Google has published a "copyright report" regarding some takedown notices issued to it during a certain period concerning search results. Why do I say "some"? Because Google's "formmail"-like online complaint form isn't reliable and doesn't (and didn't) provide feedback to the submitter showing exactly what was submitted and when...
  • Google and Oracle are fighting over whether Java unlawfully took protected elements from Oracle. Leaving aside that this is largely an ego battle in Silicon Valley, it's occupying a judge in San Jose with much better things to do; it's paying an awful lot of money to lawyers with, hopefully, some better things to do; it's tying up jurors with vastly better things to do; and it's producing results demonstrating that this never should have gone to trial. Oracle has put forth two theories: Copyright infringement, and patent infringement. The bottom line is that the jury found that Google copied a whole nine lines of code out of the entire Java system... and that the Oracle patents (which are of dubious validity anyway) were not infringed. Too, one might question whether Oracle's efforts somehow infringe, or at least implicate, a patent on the very concept of DRM...

    For the nerdier among us, this case bears a disturbing resemblance to the constitutional issues underlying the "originality" decisions — Feist Pubs., Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991) (copyright requires originality) and Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. ___ U.S. ____, No. 10–1150 (2012) (PDF) (patents don't cover isolated natural phenomena). It's a disturbing resemblance because the lawyers aren't acknowledging it... and neither are their clients. The irony that the patentholder in the latter case is named after the godling who brought knowledge to man out of pity and a spirit of sharing seems also to have escaped much notice!

    Which leads to some very bad puns indeed in the next sausage:

  • Mogul movie moguls are outraged — and overacting to express their outrage — because India's legislature is protecting author rights against rapacious film investors and producers. If nothing else, this points out the real cause of most problems with, in, and around copyright: It's not the actual creators who are making decisions and posturing in public; it's third-party exploiters who are doing so, on the ground that they put up the money so they're entitled to all possible benefits. Those of you who have taken first-year law-school property for more than four credits may recall "riparian rights," "mineral rights," and "flyover rights" as analogous issues... all of which were resolved inconsistently with what Big Media would have us do with intellectual property and related rights.

    I suppose it beats worrying about when a sculpture qualifies as an "original"... especially in French.

  • The flip side of these two sausages is an online petition to the White House to force the factual data and scientific conclusions of research funded by the federal government to be available to everyone free of publisher interference. The key here is that the exact expression in the kinds of short articles found in science journals is far less important than the data and analysis (and usually far less original and essentially unreadable anyway, but that's a not-so-separate issue well beyond the bounds of this blawg entry). I recommend that authors who are serious about protection of intellectual property rights for the creators at least consider signing this petition.