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Posts Tagged ‘intellectual property

Many Happy Returns…

 

The Free Music Archive has found a replacement for the most recognizable– and probably the most lucrative– song in America– “Happy Birthday To You.”  Together with WFMU, FMA ran a contest to find a new copyright-free (and free to use) “Happy Birthday” song…

The “Happy Birthday To You” melody was published in the late 1800s by two sisters who taught elementary school, and it was registered for copyright, as “Happy Birthday To You” in 1935. Time Warner acquired the copyright in 1998. The song reportedly brings in two million dollars a year from licensing for films, TV shows, advertisements and the like; it won’t enter the public domain until 2030 at the earliest.

WFMU thought it was dubious that the song still deserves copyright protection, but rather than mount a court challenge, it sponsored a competition for a new birthday celebration song. Among the judges were Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig and Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan.

As WFMU says, the new song puts the happy back into birthdays, and takes the cease and desist out of them.

The winning tune, by  Monk Turner + Fascinoma lacks the opportunity to shout out the birthday person’s name; but there is room to build in a call and response element. You can download the sheet music in the key of B (pdf, google doc) or the key of C (pdf, google doc). Also, check out the alternative versions of the song including two piano tracks and an instrumental version.

And you can hear it, playing behind Bloomberg Law’s recounting of the case, here:

[TotH to Laughing Squid]

###

As we hum a different tune, we might send public domain birthday greetings to Wilhelm Carl Grimm; he was born on this date in 1786.  The younger of the Brothers Grimm, Wilhelm and Jacob collected and published folk and “fairy” tales… a great many of which, freely available as they are in the public domain, have been used as the texts of animated and live action films that are– and will for decades be– under strict copyright protection (c.f., for example, this list of Disney films based on fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm and others).

[Cake photo sourced here; Grimm, here]

 

Written by LW

February 24, 2013 at 1:01 am

A modest proposal…

Our copyright laws are stealing from the mouths of Charles Dickens' great-great-great-great grandchildren

Neuroscientist and game designer Adrian Hon has a radical answer to the continuing problem of intellectual property; as he writes in The Telegraph,

…Imagine you’re a new parent at 30 years old and you’ve just published a bestselling new novel. Under the current system, if you lived to 70 years old and your descendants all had children at the age of 30, the copyright in your book – and thus the proceeds – would provide for your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren.

But what, I ask, about your great-great-great-grandchildren? What do they get? How can our laws be so heartless as to deny them the benefit of your hard work in the name of some do-gooding concept as the “public good”, simply because they were born a mere century and a half after the book was written? After all, when you wrote your book, it sprung from your mind fully-formed, without requiring any inspiration from other creative works – you owe nothing at all to the public. And what would the public do with your book, even if they had it? Most likely, they’d just make it worse.

No, it’s clear that our current copyright law is inadequate and unfair. We must move to Eternal Copyright – a system where copyright never expires, and a world in which we no longer snatch food out of the mouths of our creators’ descendants…

A bold idea such as Eternal Copyright will inevitably have opponents who wish to stand in the way of progress. Some will claim that because intellectual works are non-rivalrous, unlike tangible goods, meaning that they can be copied without removing the original, we shouldn’t treat copyright as theft at all. They might even quote George Bernard Shaw, who said, “If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”…

Certainly we wouldn’t want to listen to their other suggestions, which would see us broaden the definition of “fair use” and, horrifically, reduce copyright terms back to merely a lifetime or even less. Not only would such an act deprive our great-great-grandchildren of their birthright, but it would surely choke off creativity to the dark ages of the 18th and 19th centuries, a desperately lean time for art in which we had to make do with mere scribblers such as Wordsworth, Swift, Richardson, Defoe, Austen, Bronte, Hardy, Dickens, and Keats.

Do we really want to return to that world? I don’t think so.

The full piece is here. [TotH to Pop Loser]

 

As we return to our senses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1632 that Galileo Galilei “published” Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo)– that’s to say, he presented the first copy to his patron, Ferdinando II de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany.  Dialogue, which compared the heliocentric Copernican and the traditional geo-centric Ptolemaic systems, was an immediate best-seller.

While there was no copyright available to Galileo, his book was published under a license from the Inquisition.  Still, the following year it was deemed heretical and listed in the Catholic Church’s  Index of Forbidden Books (Index Librorum Prohibitorum); the publication of anything else Galileo had written or ever might write was also banned… a ban that remained in effect until 1835.

 source

From the Plague-On-Both-Their-Houses Department: It’s come to this…

source

The Andy Warhol banana that graced the cover of the Velvet Underground’s 1967 debut album has become the subject of litigation between the band and the artist’s estate.

In a nutshell, the estate believes that it holds the copyright, and is licensing the image (for everything from iPad covers to Absolut ads).  The band argues that there is no copyright (as the original ran without a notice), but that the image is protected as a trademark of the band– so the estate is infringing.  (There’s a more detailed recounting of situation and its background at Final Boss Form.)

One is tempted to launch into a discussion of the case as a symptom of the diseased state of intellectual property law and practice in the U.S.; but your correspondent has already burned pixels doing that, e.g., here, here, and here.  Suffice it here to quote the ever-insightful Pop Loser: “This whole story is an excellent metaphor for the world we currently live in and should probably make us all a little bit sad.”

 

As we re-up our affiliation with Creative Commons and write our Representatives to oppose SOPA, we might recall that it was on this date in 1919 that “The Noble Experiment”– the national ban on the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol that was better known as “Prohibition”– was ratified (the 18th Amendment).

By the time it was repealed in 1933, organized crime had become a major feature of American city life, and the American public had adopted the invented-for-the-occasion word “scofflaw.”

Ku Klux Klan: “Defender of the 18th Amendment” (source)

I choose… me!

People in Western countries drown in choice. Want a T-shirt? Thousands of alternatives await you. Want some toothpaste? Sit down, we could be here a while. Many people see these options as a good thing – they’re a sign of our independence, our freedom, our mastery over our own destinies. But these apparent positives have a dark side.

Krishna Savani from Columbia University has found that when Americans think about the concept of choice, they’re less concerned about the public good and less empathic towards disadvantaged people. His work supports the idea that endless arrays of choice focus our attention on individual control and, by doing so, they send a message that people’s fates are their own concerns. Their lives are not the business of the state or public institutions, and if they fail, it is their own fault. With choices at hand, Americans are more likely to choose themselves.

Savani’s experiments and their results make for pretty bracing reading.  Still, he notes, not all cultures react the same way.  And as for Americans,

… Savani points out that the US is one of the world’s most charitable countries. He writes, “If Americans believe that they are choosing to help other people out of their free will, or if they can affirm their selves through making choices for other people, they may be even more charitable.” The problem lies more with “choice for choice’s sake.”

Read the whole story in Discover.

As we resolve to simplify, we might recall that it was on this date in 1718 that London lawyer, writer, and inventor, James Puckle patented  a multi-shot gun mounted on a stand capable of firing up to nine rounds per minute– the first machine gun.

Puckle’s innovation was as formative in the realm of intellectual property as it was in the martial arena:  Quoth to the Patent Office of the United Kingdom,”In the reign of Queen Anne of Great Britain, the law officers of the Crown established as a condition of patent that the inventor must in writing describe the invention and the manner in which it works.” Puckle’s machine gun patent was among the first to provide such a description.

source and larger view, with transcription

The color of money…

 

The increasingly rapacious and reactionary corporate attitude to intellectual property rights has been the subject of several posts over at Scenarios and Strategy (c.f., e.g., “Patently Absurd…,”Caution! Pile up ahead…,” or “I was aiming for my foot, but I seem to have shot myself in the thigh…“)

Now an update for readers who might feel the urge to deliver a present in just any light  blue box, or who might fancy a certain shade of orange…  Tiffany Blue and Home Depot Orange are trademark-protected– “colormarked”– hues.

Qualitex Press Pad

It all started in 1989.  Qualitex used the unique color blend illustrated above for their dry cleaning presses.  But then competitor Jacobson began using the same shade, allegedly to more easily confuse companies into buying their product instead. Qualitex sued, won– and colormarking was born.

Readers will find a list of 10 privately-owned colors at Mental Floss‘ “10 Trademarked Colors.”

 

As we discard a number of our crayons, just to be on the safe side, we might recall that it was on this date in 1981 that the extraordinary Canadian athlete Arnie Boldt jumped 6′ 8.25″ at the Tribune Games outside of Winnipeg, breaking his own record for long jump in disabled competition.  Boldt, who’d lost his right leg in a grain auger accident at the age of three, burst onto the parasports scene at the 1976 Paralympics, where he took gold and set records in both the long and the high jumps.  He raised his high jump record at the next Paralympics in 1980, then raised both records in 1981.

Arnie Boldt in the long jump (source: Canadian Sports Hall of Fame)

 

Patently ridiculous…

From Donna Kossy and her Hysterical Patents, a selection of “unusual patents from the collection of a deceased patent attorney”; e.g.,

Inventor: Bernard H. Nichols, Ravenna, Ohio
Date: May 20, 1913
U.S. Patent Number: 1,062,025

Description: Hat to prevent premature baldness. The hat is “adapted to fit upon the head in such a manner as not to interfere with the free circulation of blood to the scalp, and at the same time so constructed as to be worn without discomfort, and without causing a temporary unseemly marking on the forehead or scalp of the wearer where it comes in contact therewith, when the hat is removed.”

More human ingenuity at its most unrestrained at Hysterical Patents.  (Thanks to reader SS for the lead!)

As we muse on the “intellectual” in “intellectual property,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1661 that the body of Oliver Cromwell– leader of the Roundhead “New Model Army” that defeated Royalist forces in the English Civil War, and subsequently the Lord Protector of the short-lived Commonwealth of England– was exhumed (he’d died of natural causes two years earlier) and ritually beheaded– on the anniversary of the 1649 execution and beheading of the king, Charles I, he’d overthrown.

Cromwell’s death mask (source)

Thou Shalt Not…

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.  In the one thousand two hundred twenty-ninth year from the incarnation of our Lord, Peter, of all monks the least significant, gave this book to the [Benedictine monastery of the] most blessed martyr, St. Quentin.  If anyone should steal it, let him know that on the Day of Judgment the most sainted martyr himself will be the accuser against him before the face of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Beinecke MS 214, Yale University Library

The MPAA continues to issue take-down notices, the RIAA continues to sue civilians, and the Justice Department enlists the Department of State secretly to negotiate a new– and closed– global intellectual property  regime (the ACTA Treaty), but piracy of CDs, DVDs, and books continues, the industry insists, to be a problem.  The problem.

So the media companies who are animating all of this frantic action have taken the extra step of admonishing its customers with “FBI Warnings” at the head of DVDs, on CD jewel cases, and the like…

But, as Carl Pyrdum, a Yale medievalist, writes in Got Medieval, history is discouraging:

Sometimes people come to me and ask, “How did medieval filmmakers protect their DVDs from piracy?” And I tell them that since so few households had DVD players during the thousand or so years between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance that it really never became much of an issue.

But this is not to say that the medievals didn’t face problems safeguarding their intellectual property. Indeed, book owners were so worried about theft and damage to their property that they often included what is known as a “book curse” on the inside cover or on the last leaf of their manuscripts [like the one illustrated above], warning away anyone who might do the book some harm. And in this, I submit, they were a lot like modern day Hollywood. For a book curse is essentially the same as that little FBI warning that pops up whenever you try to watch a movie: a toothless text charm included by the media’s maker meant to frighten the foolish. The charm only works if you believe that words are special, potent magic.

Perhaps the example illustrated above could be a model; perhaps the industry could move to something like…

As we update our copies of Handbrake, we might recall that it was on this date in 1966 that the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC), later renamed the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), was formed. The UFWOC was established when two smaller organizations, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) and the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), both in the middle of strikes against certain California grape growers, merged and moved under the umbrella of the AFL-CIO.

Before the rise of the UFW, farmworkers made, on average, about ninety cents per hour plus ten cents for each basket of produce they picked– work that many did without such basic necessities such as clean drinking water or portable toilets.  Even then, unfair hiring practices, especially demands for kickbacks, were rampant.   And there was little rest at the end of the day: their living quarters were seldom equipped with indoor plumbing or cooking facilities.

Under the founding leadership of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, the UFW brought these issues to the public’s attention.  It won many important benefits for agricultural workers, bringing comprehensive health benefits for farmworkers and their families, rest periods, clean drinking water, and sanitary facilities.

The UFW also has pioneered the fight to protect farmworkers against harmful pesticides– an effort that continues, as California proposes to allow neurotoxin methyl iodide as a pesticide in strawberry fields.

Mexican Farm Worker at Home, Imperial Valley, CA; Dorothea Lange (source: Library of Congress)

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