Insanely Inadequate

David Weinberger on copyright in 2012.

I think our current copyright system is insanely inadequate for the new ecology, and that it has the opposite effect that its best-spirited defenders want it to have: the current copyright laws (and mindset) are impeding the greatest cultural flowering in our history, and if those copyright laws are taken to their proposed maximum, they will kill culture dead.

He goes on to discuss how he and the musician whose post inspired his comments both depend on copyright to make a living (at least part of it) but still believe the system is broken.

Slightly off the topic of our screwed up intellectual property system, I’m in the middle of reading Weinberger’s new book Too Big to Know and highly recommend it. It’s an interesting read about how information is moving beyond an expert-driven system to a world of knowledge where networks are the experts. For those of us in education, his ideas have many implications.

Remixing Colbert

Last Thursday on the Colbert Report, Stephen’s guest was Lawrence Lessig, who argues in Remix, his current book, that something is wrong with our intellectual property policies in this country.

Totally failed war. For ten years we’ve been waging this war. Artists have gotten no more money, businesses have not gotten more profit, and our kids have been turned into criminals.

Society, Lessig argues, should instead be encouraging and celebrating the remixing of media and all kinds of creative ideas.

In the course of the discussion, they differed about who owns the recording of that particular segment, with Lessig claiming joint ownership.

And, as co-owner, he said that anyone had the right to remix the segment. Which, of course, is just what happened.

The lawyers at Viacom must be going nuts.

At Stake in the Copyfight

Cory Doctorow, one of my favorite advocates for fair use and reform of copyright law, explains Why I Copyfight.

He contends that without a major overhaul of the intellectual property system nothing less than culture is at stake.

There’s a word for all the stuff we do with creative works – all the conversing, retelling, singing, acting out, drawing, and thinking: we call it culture.

Culture’s old. It’s older than copyright.

The existence of culture is why copyright is valuable. The fact that we have a bottomless appetite for songs to sing together, for stories to share, for art to see and add to our visual vocabulary is the reason that people will pay money for these things.

Let me say that again: the reason copyright exists is because culture creates a market for creative works. If there was no market for creative works, there’d be no reason to care about copyright.

Read the whole article for Cory’s interesting background on the issue and his always compelling argument for why we should all be copyfighters.

The Czar Wants to Check Your Hard Drive

Congress is back in session so it’s time to keep an eye on your fair use rights.

This time around they’re working on a new law which would direct the Justice Department to do the job now being done by lawyers for the RIAA and MPAA.

The Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Act of 2008 would allow the federal government to bring civil suits against people accused of “stealing” intellectual property.

The government also gets expanded powers to seize computers and other equipment and any damages they obtain will be turned over to big media, instead of going into the US treasury as usually happens when the feds win a case.

Another bonus is the creation of a “federal copyright czar” (with the accompanying bureaucracy) to run the whole show and be a liaison with countries where abuse of American copyright law is “rampant”.

I wonder which lobbyist for the media trade associations will get that plum position. You can bet it would never go to anyone with “consumer advocate” in their resume.

Fortunately, there are some groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge, fighting back.

In a letter sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, a coalition of library associations and consumer advocacy groups criticized the bill, warning that an “unbalanced approach to enforcement would lead to unintended harms” that could stifle innovation. The letter blasted the law’s civil enforcement provisions as an “enormous gift of federal resources to large copyright owners with no demonstration that the copyright owners are having difficulties enforcing their own rights.” It also raised privacy concerns about the legislation’s civil forfeiture language, noting that the seizure of servers or other large digital storage devices, often holding data belonging to multiple users, could compromise sensitive personal information.

Some changes to the law are being considered which, hopefully, will make it harder for the FBI to begin raiding the houses of grandmothers (or invading the countries) suspected of piracy.

But there’s still the question of whether our federal law enforcement agencies should be spending their time and money to take over for RIAA lawyers, who have done a pretty lousy job of proving their case.

Meanwhile, there are other intellectual property bills, written by big media and being pushed by their Congress critters, being considered.

Pay attention.

Who Owns Your Ideas?

The Mattel toy company, makers of Barbie, is suing the company that produces the competing Bratz doll line.

The dispute here centers around where and when the designer of Bratz came up with the concept. Mattel claims it was during the time he worked for them, thus giving them the rights to the dolls.

I really don’t care about a fight between two toy companies but the issue of who owns intellectual property is one that comes up occasionally in our school district.

For example, one of my colleagues maintains a site for the teachers at his school (with an invitation to those in other buildings) to share a variety of thoughts, ideas, materials, basically whatever they feel like posting.

It’s hosted from an account he pays for and, like many wikis, it requires a registration to post information, although anyone can come in and read what’s been added.

The about page notes that the material is released under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike license.

We had an interesting discussion recently when he asked about copyright issues, specifically about whether our district could claim ownership of the materials teachers had posted to the site.

I didn’t have many answers. I’m not an intellectual property lawyer and I long ago gave up trying to pretend that I understand all the details of copyright law.

However, there may be some connection between the Barbie-Bratz legalities and the creative content produced by teachers, especially as more educators post their work to the web.

Does the fact that you work for a company or school district mean that any ideas created during the time they pay you become their intellectual property?

If I was an hourly worker, I would think that something I produced off the clock was mine. But most of us are on salary, so are our creative processes part of the mix 24/7?

What if I produced some materials during summer break, tried them out in my classroom in the fall, and then wanted to package them for sale to other teachers?

Supposed I started offering paid workshops using concepts repackaged from my experience in the classroom and what I’ve learned from others (there are plenty of examples of this!).

Occasionally there are stories in the news about intellectual property disputes between inventors and their companies, professors and their universities (and students) but they never seem offer a clear answer to the many questions in this area.

If you have any thoughts on the matter, or especially can offers any links to information or examples, please leave them in the comments or send them directly.

This is an interesting issue that potentially could affect many educators as our professional lives online evolve.