Patently Wrong

Friday, December 05, 2008


In James Boyle's new book, The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of Mind, the "sealed crustless sandwich" is just one example of patent law gone awry. Boyle argues that current law is making it harder and harder to share information and ideas to the detriment of the culture at large. His book is available for free online here.
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Comments [8]

Susan Kirkland from East Coast USA

The problem isn't copyright if you think it's okay to decide the destiny of another's creative product. The problem is a moral one; self examination is called for. It's not okay to copy someone else's creative product and display it without permission from the author. Yes, you can do it for as long as you can get away with it; but at any time you may be liable for damages and lost revenues when discovered. This type of thinking is popular among some people; especially those who enjoy downloading pirated music online--it's okay as long as they don't get caught.

Pure and simple, it's theft and there's no euphemism for that.

Dec. 14 2008 02:48 PM from New York

Mr Boyle asked for common sence in regard to copyright endurance. But there is. A copyright only is enforced when the author defends the copyright. If you copy and post the complete text of a book and several years past and nobody complains (and it is well known that it has been copied) then the work is in the public domain. Boyle's out of print book could be xeroxed without penelty. As long as he did not claim ownership and no protested, no harm no foul. Many movies and old tv shows are online now because someone posted them and the entity that owned the copyright did not bother to try and stop them (most likely because it was not economical). this is the commonsence solution: copyright expires when it is no longer worth the creator's time and resources to defend it.

Dec. 10 2008 09:04 AM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

When I was still able to do cartoons, I used to draw a circle around the letters PD, date it, and add my name. I was no more concerned that anyone would mistake my work for anyone else’s than I was about my writing. I just wanted my audiences to know that my art is a gift.

Most of the money I have made came from slinging hash, bundles of newsprint or boxes of books. I sold a few ads once in a while, too.

Dec. 08 2008 01:25 AM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

There are probably many ‘letters to the editor’ which I have written that have copyrights attached to them, since I believe the papers which published them retained those by law. Otherwise, I can’t really remember any of the innumerable stories, essays, plays or other work I have produced in written, audio, video or performance form which had them. Even when I was paid to edit our state’s senior citizen newspaper, the writing came free.

I know some famous writer famously said that one who writes for free is a fool. I never paid any attention to him. I took my cue from a very talented and once prolific writer for New Haven’s Exit Experimental Theater Co. who mentored me, John Baringer, who now works as a nurse in Tucson, though I do not fault others who take a different view.

One local writer used to read his work publicly and I noticed that he incorporated stories I had told him. I said, “Bob, you can’t do that. I’m not saying it’s illegal. It just won’t work. First, too many in your audiences know me and heard the same stories from me. Next, it isn’t your authentic voice. You have great stories of your own. (His mother was in prison for attempted murder, for which I believe he was able to later get her exonerated.) Tell those stories!”

Dec. 08 2008 01:23 AM
Susan Kirkland from East Coast NC

It's all well and fine to encourage the dissemination of information--but you can stop dead in your tracks at my front door. As a professional artist and writer, the work I produce is mine and you can't have it unless I let you. That my heirs will profit through royalties and sales 100 years after my death is a small price to pay to anyone who dedicates their lives to producing works of art. Because a majority of the public schleps to the mall poster store to buy art, many creatives make a miserly wage throughout their lives because of the general public's aesthetic ignorance. How dreadfully inconvenient that an out of print book is unavailable to you; I don't think you deserve it because it seems you feel entitled to the creative work of others without payment. Shortening copyright protection is a fast track to preventing writers and artists from profiting from their labors; and as in any income producing industry, is a short route to its demise.

Dec. 07 2008 05:14 PM
Greg Huang-Dale from Fryeburg, ME

I've been recently discussing with friends how to create an "Arts Trust" which could receive donations of songs, visual art, poetry even literature that artists want to make available to the public. Like a Land Trust these artistic endeavors would be available to anyone but could not be used for profiteering. I've been inspired by a artistic group in Maine called the Beehive Collective, whose works of art are created communally and sold at any price a buyer considers fair. This won't eliminate copyrights but it will offer creative people, like famously Dr. Seuss, the power to keep their creations tied to meaning and not to money.

Dec. 07 2008 01:13 PM
Birck Cox from Philadelphia, PA

I think the ideal length of term for copyright is worth discussing; Mr. Boyle's point is a good one. Unfortunately, a lot of what he is saying is also coming out of the mouths of a group of people and organizations that would like to turn copyright on its head. They have attempted to "fast-track" a pair of Acts through Congress that would, essentially, do away with penalties for copyright infringement, AND make it legally unrewarding to sue for infringement. For whatever reason, the Copyright Office has gotten behind their movement, and proffered the draft legislation as "part 2" of a bill to free up what are called "Orphan Works", that is- pieces of art, writing or music that someone wants to use, but for which copyright ownership data is no longer available, thus rendering the item "orphaned". The second part of the OW bill calls for a complete overhaul of the copyright laws that would make it much easier for infringers such as, say, Google, Getty or Corbis Images to make use of new, current art, photos or illustrations (my area) with impunity, and would throw the legal and financial burden of defending one's copyright onto the individual artist, photographer or illustrator. And it goes beyond that, but I've written to OTM before, and got nowhere, so I'll leave it at that. In the unlikely event that anyone there wants to investigate, search the web under Orphan Works or Illustrators' Partnership of America, or under the names Brad Holland and Cynthia Turner. This may all be boring to you, but it's our livelihood.

Dec. 07 2008 12:18 PM
Don Perley from Burlington VT

The Constitution says on copyright and patent "limited time."
At first, at a time when it might take years for a book to reach the farthest markets by the fastest shipping, the duration of copyright was 14 years.
In the digital age, when you can introduce a new work worldwide simultaneously, they've extended coverage to 100+years. It SHOULD be shorter if anything.

Dec. 07 2008 10:52 AM

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