It's been two years since Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke lost a lawsuit brought by Marvin Gaye's descendants, who argued that their song "Blurred Lines" infringed Gay's 1977 song "Got to Give It To You," not because it copied the music per se, but because it copied its "vibe." Read the rest
It's been seven years
since we previewed Theft: A History of Music
, a comic book that explains the complicated history of music, borrowing, control and copyright, created by a dynamic duo of witty copyright law professors from Duke University as a followup to the greatest law-comic ever published
: the book was due out years ago, but the untimely and tragic death of illustrator Keith Aoki delayed it -- until today
James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins, eminent copyright scholars at the Duke Center for the Public Domain, have released their 788-page Open Intellectual Property Casebook as a free, open, CC-licensed download, replacing textbooks that normally sell for $160 (you can get a hardcopy is $24); it's not just a cheaper alternative, either -- it's a better one, enlivened with sprightly writing, excellent illustrations (including comics in the vein of Boyle and Jenkins's Bound By Law). Read the rest
In 1976, the US Congress decided to extend the copyright on works that had been created with the understanding that they would enter the public domain after about 56 years (depending on whether the copyright was renewed after 26 years). This decision set the stage for a series of subsequent copyright extensions, each one coinciding, roughly, with the imminent entry to the public domain of the earliest Mickey Mouse cartoons. Effectively, the public domain has ended
Every year, Jennifer Jenkins and James Boyle at the Duke Center for the Public Domain publish a list of works that could have entered the public domain on Jan 1, were it not for the 1976 Act. James notes, "as always, scifi seems to dominate. Points to notice... Minority Report would have been in the public domain, Around The World in 80 Days -- the movie -- should have been Around The World in 34,699 Days."
Read the rest
What books would be entering the public domain if we had the pre-1978 copyright laws? You might recognize some of the titles below.
Winston Churchill, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Volume I and Volume II *
Philip K. Dick, Minority Report*
Ian Fleming, Diamonds are Forever*
Fred Gibson, Old Yeller*
Billie Holiday, Lady Sings the Blues*
Alan Lerner, My Fair Lady*
Eugene O’Neill, Long Day’s Journey into Night*
John Osborne, Look Back in Anger*
Dodie Smith, 101 Dalmatians
Here are a few of the movies that we won’t see in the public domain for another 39 years.
I'm coming to San Francisco next month to present the 19th Annual Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Awards (this year's winners are Stephen Aftergood, James Boyle, Pamela Jones and Groklaw, and Hari Krishna Prasad Vemuru -- see here for full announcement). The event's taking place at the 111 Minna Gallery at 7:30 PM, and is preceded by a "VIP event" with the Pioneer Award winners, EFF founders and board members at 6:30 (separate ticket). Funds raised from tickets go to support the EFF's amazing work (as a former employee, I can attest to how far they stretch your dollars), needed now more than ever in this era of increased pressure to surveil, control and censor the Internet.
My appearance at the Pioneer Awards is part of a longer trip that includes three days in Cedar Rapids, Iowa as guest of honor at ICON 35: A Steam Powered Convention of the Future -- they're footing the bill to get me from London to the USA. I'll be doing a post on ICON later, but I wanted to mention them here -- without their support, I couldn't do the EFF event.
The 19th Annual Pioneer Awards Read the rest
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has awarded its annual Pioneer Awards for leaders on the electronic frontier who are extending freedom and innovation in the realm of information technology. This year's winners are Stephen Aftergood, James Boyle, Pamela Jones and Groklaw, and Hari Krishna Prasad Vemuru, and the awards will be presented in San Francisco at a ceremony at the 111 Minna Gallery on November 8.
I was honored to be one of this year's judges, and I'll be emceeing the awards in San Francisco on the 8th. I hope to see you there as we honor these wonderful activists. The Pioneer Awards are nominated by the public, and awarded by a panel of independent judges. Click through for full bios of the winners. Read the rest
The San Francisco Chronicle's weekend package on copyright included a
feature on law profs James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins' forthcoming music copyright comic, Theft: A History of Music (a followup to their magnificent comic on copyright and documentary films, Bound By Law). It includes a centrefold with one of Theft's best two-page spreads -- I was lucky enough to read an early rough this summer and boyoboy are you in for a treat when they ship!
Also in the package is Copyright law needs a digital-age upgrade, by Pamela Samuelson, one of America's greatest copyright scholars, and as you'd expect, it's a must-read:
Read the rest
Modernize copyright office:
Instead of one registry for all copyrighted works, certify registries run by third parties for photos, films, computer programs and more. The model is akin to the domain name registration system.
Refine scope of exclusive rights: Weigh commercial value when determining whether someone's exclusive right has been infringed. This shields non-harmful activity from the threat of highly punitive copyright claims and commercial harm.
Limit damage awards: Guidelines for awarding statutory damages need to be consistent and reasonable.
Reform judicial infringement tests: Courts apply different tests to assess copyright violations, leading to mixed interpretations of complex copyright law. Develop consistent tests to ensure greater coherence in rulings.
Limit orphan works liability:
Enable libraries and others to preserve a part of our cultural heritage by allowing greater use of orphan works - copyrighted materials whose owners can't be found.
Create "safe harbors": Protect online service providers from excessive damage claims if they undertake reasonable, voluntary, measures to discourage peer-to-peer file-sharing.
This is your last chance to buy tickets for the first-ever ORGCon in London tomorrow: it's a day-long meeting on the digital rights situation in the UK and what we can all do to improve it. As Britain moves to censor more of the net than ever, to disconnect families on the self-regulated say-so of the entertainment industry, and to spy on more and more of our net-traffic, there has never been a more important time to get involved with digital rights in the UK. I'll be speaking there, as will James Boyle, author of The Public Domain, rogue Labour MP Tom Watson, and many other worthies, luminaries, muckrackers, and good sorts. Read the rest
The first-ever ORGCon, a one-day conference on digital rights in the UK, is coming up on July 24 in London. Over 300 people have signed up to attend, and there are only a few spaces left. If you're planning on going, you'd best book now!
ORGCon is your crash course in digital rights. This one-day conference will deliver everything you need to get campaigning on issues like the Digital Economy Act and the Database State.
As well as stellar speakers James Boyle, Cory Doctorow and Tom Watson, there'll be contributions from Liberty, NO2ID and Big Brother Watch.
ORGCon tickets running out fast - get yours now
ORGCon: London, July 24 -- book now! Read the rest
Michael from the UK Open Rights Group sez,
James Boyle, Cory Doctorow and Tom Watson are heading up the first ever conference dedicated to digital rights in the UK, to be held July 24 in London. Top of the agenda at ORGCon is tackling the Digital Economy Act and the new Government.
Sessions will include:
- James Boyle on the future of copyright, in London especially for this talk
- Cory Doctorow talk and panel on how artists can make copyright work for them
- What MPs are doing about Digital Economy Act (Tom Watson, Eric Joyce, Julian Huppert)
- What does the 'Right to Data' mean? (Heather Brooke, Rufus Pollock)
- Opening up the Data Protection Directive: Can of Worms or Opportunity (Privacy International)
- Dismantling the Database State (No2ID)
- Theft! A History of Music (Jennifer Jenkins)
ORGCon: July 24
Open Rights Group's busiest-ever year
HOWTO talk to your MP about the UK Digital Economy Bill ...
Join Open Rights Group, get a signed copy of Lessig's new book ...
Open Rights Group to Downing Street: find out how Phorm works ... Read the rest
In the wake of Craig Venter's announcement that he and his team had created the world's first synthetic lifeform, Jamie Boyle considers the legal implications of a synthetic biotech world in which the norm is that the fundamental units of creation are exclusively held by a few patent owners:
Read the rest
In an article written for the journal PloS Biology in 2007, my colleague Arti Rai and I explored the likely legal future of synthetic biology. We found reason to worry that precisely because synthetic biology looks both like software writing and genetic engineering, it might end up combining the expansive patent law aspects of both those technologies, with the troubling prospect of strong monopolies being created over the basic building blocks of science itself. Some of the patents being filed are astoundingly basic, the equivalent of patenting Boolean algebra right at the birth of computer science. With courts now reconsidering both business method and perhaps software patents, and patents over human genes, the future is an uncertain one.
In the world of software, the proprietary model faces competition from open source alternatives, free both in price and in that their code is openly available and can be scrutinized and rewritten. Internet Explorer competes with the open source browser, Firefox. Microsoft dominates the desktop operating system market but there is a Linux alternative. Microsoft web server software competes with (and trails) the open source offerings from Apache and others. The same is true in the world of synthetic biology. The Biobricks Foundation is a nonprofit founded by scientists who are keenly aware of the parallels to the software world.
Over the last few months a couple of academics and free culture activists working together in the Communia network have drafted a manifesto about the public domain in the digital age.
This public domain manifesto was launched yesterday and we are looking for signatures (we already have quite a lot of them).
The manifesto underlines the importance of the public domain as a shared resource and established a number of principles for the public domain in the digital age. The first principle is:
The Public Domain is the rule, copyright protection is the exception. Since copyright protection is granted only with respect to original forms of expression, the vast majority of data, information and ideas produced worldwide at any given time belongs to the Public Domain. In addition to information that is not eligible for protection, the Public Domain is enlarged every year by works whose term of protection expires. The combined application of the requirements for protection and the limited duration of the copyright protection contribute to the wealth of the Public Domain so as to ensure access to our shared culture and knowledge.
Read the rest of the manifesto (and sign it!) at www.publicdomainmanifesto.org.
The Public Domain Manifesto
Dewey Music: making public domain music friendlier Boing Boing
Cornell says no to restrictions on public domain materials - Boing ...
Public-domain childrens' graphics - Boing Boing
James Boyle lectures on the public domain, London, Mar 10 - Boing ... Read the rest
Few people are as qualified to write a book about the copyright wars as William Patry: former copyright counsel to the US House of Reps, advisor the Register of Copyrights, Senior Copyright Counsel for Google, and author of the seven-volume Patry on Copyright, widely held to be the single most authoritative work on US copyright ever written.
And Patry has written a very fine book indeed: Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars is every bit as authoritative as Patry on Copyright (although much, much shorter) and is absolutely accessible to a lay audience.
There are many legal scholars who've written about the copyright wars, from Pam Samuelson to Larry Lessig to Jonathan Zittrain to James Boyle, and in this exalted company, Patry's Moral Panics stands out for the sheer, unadorned calm of his approach. Patry doesn't have a lot of rhetorical flourish or prose fireworks. Instead, he tells the story of copyright in plain, thoughtful words, with much rigor and grace. Reading Moral Panics is like watching a master brick layer gracefully and effortlessly build a solid wall: no wasted motion, no sweat, no missteps. Patry knows this subject better than anyone and can really explain it.
As the title implies, Patry places the copyright wars amid other moral panics -- think of witch-hunts (both the "Communist" and the old-fashioned "witch") -- and he devotes much of the book to the sociology of moral panic, the views of the Greeks on language and metaphor, and the weaponizing of language (and the especial use which the terms "theft" and "piracy" have in this regard) and the ways that historical figures like Jack Valenti used this rhetoric to shift the debate. Read the rest
Two years ago, fantasy novelist Mark Helprin published an op-ed in the New York Times arguing for perpetual copyright. The essay was so ham-fisted and odd that a lot of people assumed that it was a joke, but now that he's published a book on the subject, Digital Barbarism, we can be pretty sure he wasn't kidding.
In the Huffington Post, Larry Lessig has written an in-depth review of the book, and the picture he paints isn't pretty. Starting from the question, "Why isn't copyright perpetual," Helprin goes on to totally fail to research this question, failing to inspect any of the arguments that have preceded his asking. Instead, he raises a bunch of tired old saws about copyright as property, and, on the way, characterizes the Internet as a colossal failure (though, as Lessig points out, it seems like it was the only tool he used to research his book), populated by "blogger-ants" (that would be me, I guess), and led by crypto-Marxist "professors in glasses" (that would be Larry, a former Young Republican).
But Helprin has spent precious little time actually researching the supposed copyright abolition movement he's so up in arms about. He apparently watched a video in which Professor James Boyle appears, because he talks about Jamie's "desire to appear almost English, an embarrassing phase some insecure colonials enter never to exit" (Jamie is Scottish). But that's about it. He thinks that Creative Commons exists to promote "freeware" software. He thinks Lessig is anti-copyright. He thinks "monopoly" can only be applied to commodities (because he looked it up in the dictionary, and it says so there). Read the rest
Last month, I wrote about the release of Jamie Boyle's The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind a new book by one of copyright's leading and most erudite scholars. I've just finished reading my review copy (you can get a free copy too -- the book is CC licensed and free to download) and I wanted to drop in a short review.
All my early excitement about this book's release was absolutely justified. This is a hell of a book. It starts with a thorough, charming, and extensive grounding in the history and contours of copyright, moving from the 17th century to the DMCA. This is familiar ground, but Boyle gives it new life with witty asides, novel comparisons and clear writing.
The second section of this book is where it really sings, though. This is the case studies, particularly the history of the "George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People," the scathing political rap spawned by outrage over FEMA's response to, and the press coverage of Katrina. Boyle traces the musicological history of this track all the way back to Ray Charles's appropriation of contemporary gospel compositions to invent soul music (over the howls of protest of the gospel singers he ripped off) to the changes wrought to hip-hop over bad US court judgements on sampling, to the legal safe harbors that allowed YouTube to flourish, giving a home to the fan videos for a political song (noting that Ben Franklin loved to rewrite the words to popular songs to make fun of political scandals) to the unmitigated hypocrisy exhibited by Jib-Jab when they used the DMCA to threaten one of the video-makers for sampling their own remix of Woody Guthrie's "This Land..." The point of this remarkable journey is to illustrate just how complicated and "unoriginal" the most original creativity is, how much even trail-blazing innovators rely on borrowing from other artists to invent their new creations. Read the rest