Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

IP in the News

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.

Copyright Notice: We don't think much of copyright, so you can do what you want with the content on this blog. Of course we are hungry for publicity, so we would be pleased if you avoided plagiarism and gave us credit for what we have written. We encourage you not to impose copyright restrictions on your "derivative" works, but we won't try to stop you. For the legally or statist minded, you can consider yourself subject to a Creative Commons Attribution License.

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Well This Is Funny...

Because copyrights allow for monopolies over "derivative works", a single producing entity often ties up the rights to copyrighted books at any given time. No direct competition is allowed to see who can produce the best adaptation (unless the underlying work is in the public domain).

With that in mind, I had to chuckle to myself when I read the news that the producer of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" has started shooting the project with a mere $5-million budget and a crew that likely ensures a quiet direct-to-video release (if that).



The producer was forced to rush this thing into production now - otherwise he would lose the rights altogether after tying them up for nearly 20 years.

Copyright Battle Over Marvel Comic Superheroes

After reading this article, I am left with the thought, "A pox on all of their houses!".

Current copyright law not only fails in its basic function in maximizing the creation and distribution of new works, but it also happens to be disastrously constructed. With more and more creations now being considered 'derivative works', the law now prevents any clear certainty as to who owns what without going through a lengthy and expensive litigation process.

When it comes to our tools of culture and speech, the one area of law that should be easily accessible to all should be IP laws. Sadly, that is not the case. It has become little more than a self-justified business to employ IP attorneys - the 21st Century's breed of ambulance chasers.

Read the sorry tale here:


Common Sense

The mainstream blogs occasionally cover intellectual property. Andrew Sullivan, for example reproduced a few letters from his readers criticizing commentary on Yglesias's blog. I suppose he picked these letters because he thought they were the most sensible? I thought just for fun I would fisk one of them, mostly because it is the kind of nonsense I hear at seminars all the time:

I just wanted to weigh in on the budding IP debate to say that anyone who takes a firm stand on the specific meaning of IP law doesn't really understand IP law.

David: No clue what that means.

Copyright, patent, and trademark law all serve different purposes, and have different statutory regimes precisely because the issue is multifaceted, complex, and must meet various and sometimes opposing interests.

David: Wow, it is complicated? Who'd have thunk it?

Conflating three separate legal regimes as "IP law" can make arguing about it's purpose inherently impossible.

David: You mean the way that the U.S. Constitution conflates copyright and patent? I suppose this letter writer is merely dishonest. Few if any people conflate trademark with copyright and patent law, and in the United States the legal purpose of copyright and patent as established by the Constitution are indeed the same.

For instance, Yglesias points to the Constitutional requirement that the protection be for a "limited time." Well, over the last 200 years as IP laws have evolved, we've decided that "limited time" means something very different in patent law and copyright law. Patents generally last for 25 years, copyrights last for the life of the author plus 75 years (this is a gross simplification, but good enough for our purposes).

David: A very gross simplification unless they recently increase the length of patent protection from 20 to 25 years. I know they keep changing the length of copyright protection at a dizzying rate, but it appears to still be life of the author plus 70 years. I guess this stuff is multifaceted and complex.

Patents cover inventions that increase our standard of living and move society forward.

David: You mean like the swinging on a swing patent?

The inventors of those things should be protected, but only for a short time; after that society as a whole should be allowed to benefit from the increased utility of the technology's wide dissemination.

David: Why is it exactly that they "should" be protected?

More to the point, copyright law protects expression -- the words or notes an artist uses in creating his work.

David: I hear this repeatedly at seminars. How does protecting "expression" give the author the unique right to write a sequel? What does "expression" have to do with Suntrust v. Houghton Mifflin lawsuit over The Wind Done Gone? With the lawsuit over the Harry Potter lexicon? Copyright protects ideas not merely the expression of ideas. Where on earth did this myth that copyright only protects the expression of ideas start?

Though I agree with him on many things, Yglesias is wrong here. Copyright law is very much in the business of protecting the rights of the author. That's why a copyright term lasts so long (copyright terms have been increasing steadily over time, indicating that we are becoming more and more concerned with protecting authors as time goes forward). That's also why copyright protects such a wide range of expressions and has so few formal requirements for securing one. Our copyright scheme is actually quite expansive in its protection of producers' interests.

One could say, as Yglesias does, that copyright protects consumers, but only with very roundabout logic: copyright incents producers to produce copyrightable works, and that allows consumers to consume those works, thus protecting their interest in listening to music, etc. It's much more logically satisfying to accept the basic truth and say "copyright law protects an author's interest in his copyrightable works," and then derive whatever ancillary benefits you want from there.

David: There is a telling difference between what copyright does protect - the interests of the intermediaries involved in distributing copyrightable works - and what copyright is intended to protect - the rights of the public at large. As it happens it does not and is not meant to protect either authors or consumers.

The Patent System: End it, don't mend it

In the Christian Science Monitor

AP Obama image copyright lawsuit devolves into farce

Actually, it was a farce from the beginning. But what do you call it when an inherent farce devolves into a an even bigger farce?

Details here and here.

This is an increasingly familiar pattern. Otherwise truthful people seem to have no problems lying in legal proceedings when they perceive the underlying laws and system is inherently unfair and stacked against them. That is why you see examples such as this and others such as music downloaders claiming that somebody else must have used their computer without their knowledge. In the end, more and more individuals are likely to conclude that it is easier to commit perjury as a potential shortcut remedy when faced with a lengthy and expensive legal entanglement with media conglomerates.

I sympathize with these people. If you want people to have respect for the law and the legal system, you must first make sure that you have laws and a legal system that is worthy of respect. Can you honestly say that this is the case when it comes to the current state of copyright law?

Debate: "Copyright and wrongs"

The Economist is running a formal debate entitled "Copyright and wrongs; This house believes that existing copyright laws do more harm than good" link here.

Most of us writing here accept the proposition and are opposed to copyright. One part of my mind argues to stick with principle. Another concludes we are slowly seeing the IP rights of the owners expanded. They have the money, the lawyers, and the political allies. We are losing. One way is through the steady accretion of legal complexity. Another is the spread of IP to other countries, with pressure growing on all to conform to some international minimum legal standard. In the meantime, so many consumers have been brainwashed that IP rights are virtues sanctified by the constitution.

Having cried in my beer, I urge you all to view the debate, which is about half over. You can still participate, as well as weighing in here when it suggests ideas worth arguing or passing on.

Is China using patents as an arm of state power?

The Economist has a startling article this week on China's drive to develop patents as part of its development policy and to put it ahead among the world's leading economic powers link here. " The country's patent office leads the world in patent applications, more than 800,000 of which were filed in 2008. ...Most are for "petty" patents: middling technology that undergoes minimal review and receives only a 10-year term....[But] Chinese firms are increasingly filing "invention" patents that are rigorously scrutinized and receive 20 years of protection, as in the West." "Since 2006 more patent lawsuits have been filed in China than anywhere else, even litigious America. Most pit domestic firms against each other, but in recent years foreigners have found themselves on the receiving end too."

For those of us who regard patents as anti-competitive, leading to monopoly, this can only be seen as unwelcome. When intellectual property becomes an arm of the state in international competition, the world's consumers will lose and fights over IP will become sources of international conflict. Such conflicts need a lot more attention than they have been given to date. But attenuating them, much less resolving them, does not seem likely. What goes around comes around.

Celebrate World Intellectual Property Day...

by using The Pirate Bay. Just kidding.

It's bad enough they want us to celebate "World IP Day". But now they are focused on "promoting green innovation." Groan. Gotta love this state-sponsored propaganda-fest.

Celebrate World Intellectual Property Day

Today [April 26, 2009] is World Intellectual Property Day and this year WIPO's focus is on promoting green innovation as the key to a secure future.

According to WIPO, most people are aware of intellectual property (IP) but many still view patents, copyrights and trademarks as business or legal concepts with little to no relevance to their own lives. To address this gap, WIPO's Member States decided in 2000 to designate an annual World Intellectual Property Day. They chose April 26, the date on which the Convention establishing WIPO originally entered into force in 1970.

Each year, WIPO and its Member States celebrate World Intellectual Property Day with activities, events and campaigns. These are an attempt to increase public understanding of what IP really means, and to demonstrate how the IP system fosters not only music, arts and entertainments, but also all the products and technological innovations that help to shape our world.

WIPO issues a message from the Director General each year, broadcasts a short publicity spot on international television channels, and dispatches posters and other promotional materials to IP offices and organizations.

In praise of piracy

Peter Leeson has a fantasy about pirates and their utility. as promoters of socially useful values like freedom, equality, liberty, and democracy back when monarchies were tyrants link here.

The George Mason economics professor writes in respect to the Somali pirates , but his point is worth thinking about in terms of IP piracy as well. IP pirates promote a greater social good, once one gets over the illusion that IP enforcement facilitates innovation. And as good economists, they deliver the product at its marginal cost, either nothing or close to it.

New Aggregator Blog

OTI.com aggregates information about IP from a variety of sources (including this blog)...if you want to keep tabs on IP news, it is a good place to look.

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