Prediction: In five hundred years, our current system of “intellectual property” (copyright, trademarks, patents) will be considered an archaic affront to basic human rights, rather like “creative feudalism”. It will be mentioned alongside multi-level-marketing and trickle-down economics as one of the peculiarly unchallenged scams of our era. People of the future will wonder how we could have possibly been so stupid.
New Zealand has finally passed a new Patents Bill that will effectively outlaw software patents after five years of debate, delay, and intense lobbying from multinational software vendors.
What’s hot on ZDNet
Aptly named Commerce Minister Craig Foss welcomed the modernisation of the patents law, saying it marked a “significant step towards driving innovation in New Zealand”.
“By clarifying the definition of what can be patented, we are giving New Zealand businesses more flexibility to adapt and improve existing inventions, while continuing to protect genuine innovations,” Foss said.
The nearly unanimous passage of the Bill was also greeted by Institute of IT Professionals (IITP) chief executive Paul Matthews, who congratulated Foss for listening to the IT industry and ensuring that software patents were excluded.
Matthews said it was a breakthrough day “where old law met modern technology and came out on the side of New Zealand’s software innovators”.
One small step on the long road to sanity. A few more steps I would like seen taken:
- Eliminate patents on life forms or portions of life forms
- Eliminate trademarks on fictional characters (copyright covers those)
- Eliminate “works for hire” (the abuse of which has been rampant for decades)
- Shorten copyright protection to a reasonable period (20 to 30 years is more than generous)
Of course, if these steps are ever taken, the USA will be the last to take them. When it comes to sanity with respect to patent, trademark, and copyright, I look toward New Zealand and the European Union to lead the way to a more reasonable future.
Susan and I had a conversation earlier about Sherlock Holmes, and whether the 125-year-old character was in the public domain (it should have been in the public domain before either of us were born, but that’s another topic).
In process of researching our discussion, I turned up this article regarding a suit filed recently in federal court in Chicago. A top Sherlock Holmes scholar alleges that many licensing fees paid to the Arthur Conan Doyle estate have been unnecessary, since the main characters and elements of their story derive from materials in the public domain (as of 2004, only 9 of the 60 Sherlock Holmes stories by Doyle are still covered under US copyright).
When Steven Vicinanza got a letter in the mail earlier this year informing him that he needed to pay $1,000 per employee for a license to some “distributed computer architecture” patents, he didn’t quite believe it at first. The letter seemed to be saying anyone using a modern office scanner to scan documents to e-mail would have to pay—which is to say, just about any business, period.
If he’d paid up, the IT services provider that Vicinanza founded, BlueWave Computing, would have owed $130,000.
Vicinanza made the unusual choice to fight back against Hill and “Project Paperless”—and actually ended up with a pretty resounding victory. But the Project Paperless patents haven’t gone away. Instead, they’ve been passed on to a network of at least eight different shell companies with six-letter names like AdzPro, GosNel, and FasLan. Those entities are now sending out hundreds, if not thousands, of copies of the same demand letter to small businesses from New Hampshire to Minnesota. (For simplicity, I’ll just refer to one of those entities, AdzPro.)
Ars has acquired several copies of the AdzPro demand letter; the only variations are the six-letter name of the shell company and the royalty demands, which range from $900 to $1,200 per employee.
Copyright was an Enlightenment-era social experiment: use the power of government to prevent people from selling or copying creative works without the consent of the creator for a limited time. As originally conceived, I think it was relatively reasonable. However, the current perception (perpetuated by large media companies that seek to own and control our cultural heritage) that when someone creates something once once, that they (rather, the corporation they work for) should be able to monetize that and prevent other people from sharing it or building on it forever has caused and continues to cause severe damage to our common culture, and to the culture of future generations.
If current copyright law had always existed, there would be no libraries, because there would be nothing to put in them.
Update (2012-11-18): That didn’t take long. Less than 24 hours after this “eminently sensible copyright position paper” was posted, the paper has been pulled and the Republicans are falling over themselves to placate the media robber barons. Money doesn’t win elections, but this makes it abundantly clear that money does buy politicians. (In case you doubted it.)
Because it’s not enough to have eviscerated the public domain by extending copyright protection to an INSANE duration. Now they want to make it SMALLER. Because, you know, who cares about the public interest as long as the media robber barons can make a buck and have more control over our cultural heritage, right?
Congress may take books, musical compositions and other works out of the public domain, where they can be freely used and adapted, and grant them copyright status again, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
Anthony Falzone, executive director of the Fair Use Project at Stanford University and a plaintiff’s lawyer in the case, called the decision “unfortunate” and said it “suggests Congress is not required to pay particularly close attention to the interests of the public when it passes copyright laws.”
When it comes to copyright, Congress stopped paying attention to the interests of the public a long time ago.
Samsung cites Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ movie as prior art against iPad design patent
Attached hereto as Exhibit D is a true and correct copy of a still image taken from Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey.” In a clip from that film lasting about one minute, two astronauts are eating and at the same time using personal tablet computers. The clip can be downloaded online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQ8pQVDyaLo. As with the design claimed by the D’889 Patent, the tablet disclosed in the clip has an overall rectangular shape with a dominant display screen, narrow borders, a predominately flat front surface, a flat back surface (which is evident because the tablets are lying flat on the table’s surface), and a thin form factor.
Let’s hope that the judge tells Apple to stop bullying people and stop pretending they invented everything.
I received an interesting email today from the Czech Republic. They are using the graphics I put together for Sharing is not piracy and Copying is not piracy for a campaign against the new copyright law in the Czech Republic.
I love the Czech Republic. I wish them luck.
In response to pressure from the U.S. Department of Justice and Germany’s Federal Cartel Office (Das Bundeskartellamt), Microsoft and its CPTN Holding Partners — Apple, EMC, and Oracle — have revised their agreements so that the Novell patents will be under both GPLv2 and Open Innovation Network protection.
So what does it all mean? Andrew “Andy” Updegrove, founding partner of Gesmer Updegrove, a top technology law firm, said, “This is a rather breath-taking announcement from a number of perspectives. Among others, the granularity of the restrictions imposed demonstrates a level of understanding of open source software in general, and Linux in particular, that has not been demonstrated by regulators in the past. It also demonstrates a very different attitude on the part of both the U.S. and German regulators, on the one hand, and Microsoft, on the other, from what we saw the last time that Microsoft was under the microscope. In the past, Microsoft was more disposed to fight than negotiate, and the U.S. and the European Commission were far apart in their attitudes. This announcement conclusively places open-source software on the U.S. regulatory map.”
I think this is a really interesting development. Interesting in the sense that it’s not antagonistic to consumers and developers, and that it’s not what I predicted, or even guessed might happen.
In a statement issued on Friday, Oracle announced that it intends to discontinue commercial development of the OpenOffice.org (OOo) office suite. The move comes several months after key members of the OOo community and a number of major corporate contributors forked OOo to create a vendor-neutral alternative.
OOo is one of many open source software projects that Oracle obtained in its acquisition of Sun. OOo has long been plagued by governance issues and friction between its corporate stakeholders. Sun’s copyright assignment policies and bureaucratic code review process significantly hindered community participation in the project. Oracle declined to address these issues after its acquisition of Sun and exacerbated the friction by failing to engage with the OOo community in a transparent and open way.
A group of prominent OOo contributors eventually decided to fork the project, creating an alternative called LibreOffice. They founded a nonprofit organization called The Document Foundation (TDF) in order to create a truly vendor-neutral governance body for the software. LibreOffice is based on the OOo source code, but it also incorporates a large number of other improvements driven by its own developer community. […]
The community defections eventually made OOo financially untenable for Oracle, which is why the company has finally thrown in the towel. Oracle says that it is ready to hand over control of the project to the community, but doing so at this point would be little more than a symbolic gesture; the community has already moved on of its own accord. […]
The LibreOffice escape from Oracle is a powerful demonstration of how open source forking can be used to protect community autonomy and lock out exploitative stakeholders.
You might be tempted to applaud. You shouldn’t. We would all be better off if Oracle had participated in the OpenOffice project in a transparent and open way. Users would be better off, because Oracle brings a lot to the table, and Oracle would be better off, because they would have a foundation for their commercial Cloud Office project (which appears to have been terminated along with their participation in OpenOffice). So, we all lose here, in the short term.
However, in the long term, the project continues, under better conditions that Oracle permitted, and we all benefit from that. It’s just a shame that Oracle was so short-sighted.