Miscellaneous content from the original enlightened caveman. Some serious, some not. Take your chances.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Intellectual Property and Table Clearing

Here's where capitalism and the concept of intellectual property clash. The Time Life folks hit me with a Greatest Soul Ballads ad tonight, and it got me thinking. I'm not really interested in every song on the list, but there are quite a few that I'd love to have on my iPod. Wouldn't it be nice if someone had a website that provided the songlist for all these great compilations that get advertised on TV? You could just choose the ones you want and buy them for $1.05 - $1.00 goes to iTunes, and Mr. Easy Tunes (can I name a business or what?) keeps a nickel. Nice little money machine, right? Maybe not.

It's likely, I don't know (it's late - I been drinkin), that intellectual property laws could protect these lists so that it would be an infringement to use them without permission (and compensation). And if this is true, isn't it a bit much? Then what can't you claim as your own?

Tonight, after guests left, I inaugurated the one object under each arm (a pitcher and beer bottle) and four glasses in each hand clean up maneuver. It was an act of custodial ballet - the objects balanced just so, the glasses drawn together slowly as the grasp of each hand closed, and the deft pivot towards the kitchen. I've been around. I worked in restaurants, and I've been in surreal late night contests to see who could carry the most glasses, so I won't say my maneuver was ground breaking. But it was smooth, and most of all, efficient - the table was cleared instantly. Now what if I decided that that move was mine, and that I wanted to legally make it so?

Would it not be a series of ideas or memes (like a list) that were put into action (like selling a compilation album) that elicted a desired outcome - in this case, clearing a table in one fell swoop (like making money)? Of course, I know that folks probably won't be executing my move for financial compensation any time soon, but what does that matter? Bloggers can't take copyrighted photos and put them on their blog sites. There's no money in it for the bloggers, but that's still out of bounds. So where's the line? By the logic of list protection and copyrighted photo protection, could I not charge a nickel every time someone executed my maneuver? Seems like I could. (And you can bet I'd enforce it.) Maybe it's silly. But maybe it's not.

Any of you bottom dwelling lawyers want to weigh in on this?


Blogger alice said...

It seems to me you would need a lawyer for this one. Suppose, while executing your table clearing maneuver, someone dropped one of the glasses and damaged an antique sideboard nearby. Let's suppose that sideboard belonged to the wife's deceased great grandmother and had been in the family forever. I'm sure that there would be not only physical but emotional harm involved with this accident which could go back to you and cost you dearly.

And of course during this maneuver the person excecuting said maneuver could injure his back. It would seem that you should have this whole thing assessed and approved by some Federal agency.

The disclaimers for this could be longer than the instruction sheet.I would think long and hard before I entered into this very dangerous territory. You could lose everything.

4/10/2005 10:53:00 AM

Blogger Robert said...

This issue is by no means clear-cut. As your illustration suggests, the lack of a precise definition of intellectual property could lead to the absurd. As I see it though, one ought to be able to secure the right to ideas that are potentially lucrative. Particularly with such things as literature, music/lyrics and pharmaceuticals. In a culture where everything is for sale, the inventor and/or author should be the primary beneficiary of the profits. An added bonus for the rest of us is the incentive to innovate and produce, which would be hindered without strong IP regs.

4/10/2005 01:22:00 PM

Blogger Chris Wilson said...

Ah yes, you've hit upon the liability side of my intellectual property venture, which adds another layer of absurdity to it all.

I suppose I really could be liable for someone's misuse of my intellectual property. This is how Black Sabbath ends up in court because kids off themselves after listening to their music. But maybe it's not so bad. Maybe this is the balance to the lengths to which IP laws can be manipulated. I'm a perfect example.

I have now officially decided not to seek legal protection for my clearing move. Thanks for the tip.

4/11/2005 12:30:00 AM

Blogger Chris Wilson said...

I agree that we need IP laws. I just find it interesting that they are necessarily so nebulous that you can protect most anything.

4/11/2005 12:32:00 AM

Blogger Clupbert said...

IP Laws should extend to only complex things. Trying to copyright "you're fired" or "reality tv" or anything vague is ridiculous. It should be only complex works that can be copyrighted. Who gives a crap about art as much as products anyway? I don't think people need that much incentive to create music, books, and poetry as much as they need incentive to create new pharmaceuticals or cat scan machines. Make it harder to get an art copyright than a product patent.

4/11/2005 12:56:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Make it harder to get an art copyright than a product patent.

Of course, product patents aren't all that hard to get, either. There is currently a patent on a different way to swing on a tree, patents on software algorithms that have been around with slight modifications for forty years, and patents on all manner of other silliness. The problem is that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is so backlogged that the examiners can't do a proper search for inventions and have taken the attitude that they should generally grant patents and let the courts settle any disputes that come up. Defending a patent claim can run upwards of half a million dollars. As a result, when most businesses are hit with a patent infringement lawsuit, they knuckle under and simply pay whatever licensing fee the claimnant demands because it's usually cheaper.

It has gotten so bad in the computer programming field that I believe the only way to legally write software for public distribution is to write for a large company, with a significant patent portfolio, that can enter into cross-licensing deals with other companies to avoid patent lawsuits. Free (as in speech) and Open Source software (F/OSS) development is running a huge risk if one of these patent holding companies decide to go after the developers who write F/OSS. How many independent developers have millions of dollars lying around to defend against a bunch of lawsuits? Not many, I'll wager.

The claim that most people will create "art" only if there is a financial incentive doesn't seem very well thought out. There are plenty of people out there who are writing, playing music, painting, sculpting, and acting even when the financial rewards are small or nonexistant. Perhaps a significant number of those people are doing it in hopes that the financial rewards will be huge later on, but I haven't seen any surveys or research indicating whether or not that's true. It seems to me that a significant number of the people creating "art" are doing so for the simple joy of creating it, or possible wide-scale recognition, with the financial considerations being secondary. Of course, that's just my opinion, and I could be completely wrong about that. I just haven't seen any evidence to indicate which is correct.

Shawn Smith

4/12/2005 07:38:00 PM

Blogger Clupbert said...

Well you need some financial incentive to create art because authors like Michael Crichton can use their whole time to concentrate on writing books for the rest of us. If he had to do it on the side, how good would his work be or how many books would there be? So you have to be able to patent things like essays or works in excess of a certain word count. I am sure it works with other types of art too, but I don't care about paintings or poetry because they're stupid.

4/13/2005 12:32:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

...patent things like essays or works in excess of a certain word count...

Here is another example of "Intellectual Property" being a bad term. Copyrights and Patents are completely different things, with completely different purposes and lifetimes. Here's a demonstration with two snippets of code:

#include <stdio.h>
int main(void) {
printf("Hello World!\n");
return 0;


echo "Hello World!"

Do those two programs look the same? No, but they do the "same thing." If I were the first person to put the first code snippet into some physical medium, I will have copywrited the first code example. As a result, I would be able to take anyone to court who copied that code without my permission. I would not, however be able to take someone to court if they used the second code fragment. On the other hand, if I patented the algorithm represented by these two programs, I could take someone to court for using this algorithm without my permission, regardless of which computer language they wrote it in, whether it was C (the first example), shell (the second example), Java, C#, Visual Basic, Tcl, Python, Ruby, Oberon, Eiffel, LISP, FORTRAN, SNOBOL, 8086 Assembly, or any other language.

I will grant your point that financial incentive is necessary for some artists to do what they do, and even that it is the primary motivation for most "successful" artists. However, what possible incentive does lifetime + 90 years copyright protection provide for someone to create work that lifetime + 70 years copyright protection does not? Apparently the Supreme Court thinks there is incentive, which is one of the things that the Eldred case decided.

I'll go out on a limb and believe that you were being facetious when you said that only paintings and poetry were "stupid." There are plenty of people who think books, or movies, or television programs are "stupid." Fortunately, we don't let them (or any one person or group, really) decide which works get copyright protection and which do not.

I'm not saying copyrights are bad, or that patents are worthless. I simply believe that the current system in the U.S. is completely out of control, and is doing more damage than good.

4/13/2005 12:23:00 PM

Blogger Chris Wilson said...

The whole IP thing, to me, revolves around the notion that it is possible to have intangible property. Clearly, this is necessary. The sentiment behind the human right to property is that one must be able to keep the fruits of one's labor, else he or she might not be able to live, which would violate the right to life.

So when an artist, a musician, for example, spends his whole life working on his craft, he should be entitled the benefits that flow from his virtuosity. If someone, a hack musician, comes along and copies what he does, and profits from it, he is effectively stealing the artist's property.

Problems arise when the laws that are written to protect the fruit of labor also, as luck would have it, protect the fruit of leisure. Nowadays, as has been pointed out, you can patent just about anything, regardless of how long it took you to come up with it.

I really don't know what the solution to this is, because I can't see the government getting in the business of determining whether people have actually slaved over what they are looking to protect. Nevertheless, if there's a place to start in reforming things, it seems like this is as good as any other.

Clupbert, you're obviously a moron. Poetry is the economical expression of emotion and beauty in this world. Behold:

There was an old man from Belgrave
Who found a dead whore in a cave
He said "How disgusting,
But it only needs dusting,
And think of the money I'll save.

4/13/2005 10:50:00 PM

Blogger Robert said...

Chris, you’re deliciously insensitive. I might point out though, that the amount of sweat one expires in the creation of IP is not relevant…in my view. It really boils down to supply and demand. If one desires the product of my mind (as if), one will pay the maximum, or do without.

4/13/2005 11:01:00 PM

Blogger Chris Wilson said...

Hmm. Let's not confuse free market concepts, such as the right to contract with whomever you wish for whatever you wish, with the right to *protect* your intellectual property. I may be willing to pay you for your opinion on the validity of the Bible, but that doesn't mean you should be allowed to *prevent* someone else from expressing that same opinion for money. That's what this is about - preventing others from taking your property.

This is the slippery part of the problem. Where is the line to be drawn? On one hand, it seems quite obvious that you shouldn't be able to legally protect your opinion. But then again, isn't this exactly what most authors do when they copyright their work?

Right now, it seems like the lines are drawn arbitrarily without regard for the spirit of the protection of property. If it is tangible, even as paper (like money), it's easy to say it's yours and you should be able to protect it. But when we're talking about ideas, it's harder to determine what makes sense. If I write my opinions down, that makes them more protectable, but that isn't the issue.

The issue, to me, as I've said, is whether it is the fruit of labor or not. If it took you no time or effort to come up with your opinion, who's to say it hasn't been thought of a thousand times before, and will not be thought of a thousand times again? How does it make sense to legally prevent someone else from profiting from the same effortless thought?

As for my insensitivity, don't worry, Clupbert can take it. Check out his blog at:

4/14/2005 02:05:00 AM

Blogger Robert said...

It seems to me, that one of the reasons that copyright laws exist is expressly for the purpose of converting nebulous ideas into tangible, protected “property”. I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily arbitrary. It’s the genius of capitalism…wealth creation. Some ideas are indeed universal knowledge, but the one that secures “ownership” reaps the benefits, provided there are those willing to pay. I would argue that all property rights are at once abstract and substantive. What’s the phrase?...possession is 9/10 of the law. The concept of law itself is, theoretically, to protect the individual. So, since some don’t abide by the “honor system”, I’m all for regs that secure ideas from which I might profit.

4/14/2005 09:44:00 AM

Blogger Chris Wilson said...

Yes, but let's remember that the free market is successful in large part because a governing body of some sort sets the rules of the game and then enforces them. So the question here is not whether IP laws *should* exist, but in what form.

I am only arguing that a system in which any old thing can constitute IP is inevitably going to suffer from bloat that weighs it down without providing a proportional increase in foundation. Maybe we're not there yet, but it looks pretty obvious that we'll get there some day.

Perhaps the quandary you point out with respect to abstract notions of property rights is a practical matter. In situations involving tangible property, then the claimant need only get the governing body to acknowledge the boundaries. This, as far as I understand it today, works pretty well. There's no reason to believe that this practice cannot remain intact while the procedures involving IP obtain provisions that are more suitable to this altogether different form of property.

4/19/2005 02:14:00 AM


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