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Posts Tagged ‘copyright’

States are being negligent with their cultural heritage when they turn it over to a monopolist and thereby run tax-funded projects like the European digital library Europeana into the ground.

Not having had the time — till today — to go through the details of the controversial Google Books settlement, I wasn’t entirely sure where I stood on the issue. The above quote by the German Minister of Culture, however, was the first indication that the settlement couldn’t be as evil as some were making it out to be. Not to over-generalize, but when leftist cultural nationalists oppose something, it generally means I will end up supporting it.

Anyway, it prompted me to finally go through the agreement in detail. And my intuition was right, I think the agreement is perfectly ok, and indeed a great thing. It is important to make clear at this point that my concern was never monopoly; I happen to oppose anti-trust laws. My concern was always rights. So for me, the most important aspect of the agreement is the fact that is non-exclusive. That basically seals it for me. Once you see what that means, it is clear that much of the opposition is misleading, or worse. In particular, the next time you hear someone claiming that the agreement gives Google an exclusive right to sell millions of out-of print but still-in-copyright books at whatever price they wish, remember they are simply lying. The rightsholders of these works, under the terms of the settlement, retain all rights to sell (or give out for free) digitized copies of their books through any other agency, even a competing one, now or any time in the future. (They also have the right to opt-out of the settlement altogether.) So if you are the copyright holder of an out-of print book and you are outraged that Google is selling it at some high price, remember that you can, first off, ask them to stop (there is a deadline for this) or even better, you can legally, anytime you wish, put it up on your own webpage or anyone else’s, or enter into a competing agreement with Microsoft or Yahoo, and either sell your book at your chosen price, or give it to the public for free (and you don’t even have to opt out of the settlement, meaning that your book will continue to be searchable through Google). This is very different from what the situation would have been if the agreement were an exclusive one, and the distinction really goes to the heart of the matter.

As for the case of orphaned out-of-print books (where the rightholders cannot be found or don’t care), first off, Google is doing a service by making their books more easily available; secondly, any other individual or competing company — like Amazon — can also scan these books (that’s the beauty of non-exclusive), and thirdly most of these books will get into the public domain pretty soon.

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Another policy change

I have changed the Creative Commons license that governs the content of this blog. In plain English, the change amounts to the following — now you can quote, republish, adapt or otherwise use any part of this blog for non-commercial purposes, provided you attribute me  as the original source. This is more restrictive than my previous license, which allowed such use even for commercial purposes, but of course, vastly less restrictive than the default “all rights reserved” copyright, where only ‘fair use’ is permitted.

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I had written earlier about the Scrabble vs Scrabulous saga. There is a post on the same topic at Reason Hit and Run today, with an interesting discussion below.

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The Associated Press wants bloggers to stop quoting passages from its news reports. At the risk of incurring their wrath, I’ll quote the spokesman:

Cutting and pasting a lot of content into a blog is not what we want to see. It is more consistent with the spirit of the Internet to link to content so people can read the whole thing in context.

In fact the AP sent letters to the Drudge Retort, asking it to take down several posts which contained quotations from A.P. articles ranging from 39 to 79 words.

But here’s the irony:  Around the same time it was harassing bloggers, the AP published an article which lifted 154 words from a certain blog post.

Perhaps it is the AP’s position that only those who are not news professionals should have to pay for content. Of course I am shamelessly paraphrasing Glenn Reynolds here. Also have a look at the image below which I lifted directly from Bright and Early (who may have either lifted it from AP’s own website or simply made it up.)

Since the AP owns all the words in the English alphabet now, I guess I should start blogging in Eskimoish. 

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Intellectual property laws, such as those relating to copyright or patents, are a source of considerable disagreement among libertarians. The reason is not hard to see. In the words of Rodrick Long,

When libertarians of the first sort come across a purported intellectual property right, they see one more instance of an individual’s rightful claim to the product of his labor. When libertarians of the second sort come across a purported intellectual property right, they see one more instance of undeserved monopoly privilege granted by government.

In this fine article, Long argues against intellectual property laws from a libertarian perspective and points out there are other means (such as laws against fraud) to achieve many of the same results. My position on the matter is less extreme than Long’s. I believe that a case does exist for some intellectual property laws; however I also believe that current laws are more restrictive than is necessary. For instance, there is no justification, in my opinion, for the absurdly long copyright laws that currently exist in the United States (and were passed incidentally, under pressure from media corporations).

The matter is complex and deserves a longer post, which I hope to attempt some day. For now, I’d like to point the reader to the fact that Neil Nataniel is currently guest-blogging at Volokh on what he calls the “copyright paradox”, a reference to the fact that copyright simultaneously enables and restricts free speech. The first two posts are here and here.

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Hasbro and Mattel, the makers of the enourmously popular board game called scrabble, want to shut down scrabulous.com, and especially its Facebook avatar.

The article above quotes an angry Scrabulous fan from the United Kingdom : “Do these greedy fools not realize that they should be paying the creators of Scrabulous for all the damn fans of the game they created?”

My sentiments exactly. 

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