The anti-Creative Commons

A few weeks ago I was part of a panel on intellectual property controversies at Michigan Tech. One of the comments I made on the panel is that most intellectual property law innovations have been developed by regular people taking intellectual property law into their own hands. For example, Creative Commons, Science Commons and Open Source Software are all innovations created by information creators and users, not lawmakers on Capitol Hill or the judiciary.

A reader recently submitted the website: myfreecopyright.com, which I’ve dubbed the anti-creative commons. Like the legal innovations listed above, this is yet another resource that allows creators to engage their online i.p. and the law in a user-friendly way.

The difference, a big one, is that the myfreecopyright site allows you to notify others of your copyrighted content and allows you to register and date the work through their database. This is achieved in three steps: 1. Upload the work by allowing the site to subscribe to your content; 2. A digital fingerprint of the work is created; 3. The work is registered on the database.

Why go through this? Here is what the myfreecopyright site says:

“You should provide evidence of your Copyright on all public displays of your original creations so that nobody can claim they thought your creation was part of the public domain. The Public Domain consists of original creations available Copyright Free to the whole public. Copyright Infringers often claim the public domain defense, and can be let off the hook, if no public display was with your original creations defining your Copyright.”

What I find so interesting about this is that the Library of Congress is the official place for authors to register federal copyrights. Authors obtain copyright when they create the work in a tangible medium, but they can register it. Authors register their works to have the right to sue in federal court and obtain the high damages stipulated by federal laws. The myfreecopyright site does not register your copyrights in the Library of Congress, and does not help you locate and pursue infringers. It does (as mentioned above) put everyone on notice that you have claimed a copyright and have registered it in a public database, which hinders unauthorized users from claiming the public domain defense. This is another private technology solution to intellectual property law. In this way, it’s another example of how everyday folks are innovating and engaging their intellectual property, participating in what I call law 2.0

Google’s Book Democracy?

A reader sent me this New York Times  article that explains Google’s book project, which recently had to settle copyright infringement lawsuits filed by authors. With the new Google service we will all have greater access to information, a lot of which is under copyright. However, the full service appears to be limited to subscribers. The loophole is that public libraries will have a terminal that allows visitors to access the database for free.

If you come across any interesting intellectual property controversies, please send them my way.

Copyright out of control?

Techdirt does a nice job describing some of the problems currently facing artists and copyright. Basically, how can you artistically innovate without borrowing?

This is in response to a copyright-related story that recently popped up dealing with the iconic blue, white and red Obama campaign posters. As it turns out, the original image was a photograph taken by an Associated Press freelance photographer. The image was downloaded and altered by someone else to generate the iconic poster image. All this was done without getting the photographer or the A.P.’s permission, and in theory violating their copyright.

A librarian’s perspective

Molly Kleinman, the fourth speaker of the lecture series (see posts below),  is a copyright specialist and librarian at the University of Michigan. Her job hinges on allowing people to achieve their research goals, and her job at times can be impeded by copyright laws. 

I asked her if she viewed Google as a threat to libraries. They’re not, to her. They actually make her job easier and serve as just another tool.

She also mentioned how libraries and their special databases are often unrecognized, since Google uses them extensively but never tells you that they are using a library’s database.

A big concern Molly has with copyright is that in the pre-Web era, libraries could buy a phyiscal copy of a book or journal and keep the tangible copy as long as it did not disintegrate. Now, she has seen an increased trend in licensing content. Basically, the libraries are owning less and less physical materials, and hence are owning less physical content. When they license the information, the terms of a license contract dictate the terms of use. These terms often mean no copying, no backing up, no storing in other devices, and no saving on the shelf. This means the library has to keep re-paying the content owner for re-newed access to the information periodically. This has been great for content owners who have shifted their information to digital platforms. But this is bad for the consumer who now no longer owns any tangible product where the data has been stored.

If this keeps happening, used book stores might be out of business some day?

Copyright Criminals!

Hi everyone. In this post I’ll talk about Kembrew McCleod’s lecture as part of the recent “Intellectual Property Controversies” series held here at Michigan Tech (see previous post).

I first heard of Kembrew a few years ago when he played a prank on the i.p. (intellectual property) system. To make a point about how copyrights and trademarks are used by corporations to limit the public’s free speech, Kembrew registered “freedom of speech” as a federal trademark. He later made headlines by asserting that trademark against AT&T, since they tried to place an ad in a local newspaper that used the tagline “freedom of speech”.

Kembrew is about to release a film he co-produced with Benjamin Franzen, called “Copyright Criminals“. I saw the film as part of a free sneak preview screening at Michigan Tech. The film does a nice job of interviewing hip hop artists like Chuck D. who, in the ’90’s, sampled key sounds from music legends like George Clinton and Clyde Stubblefield.

The sampling was done as part of a massive creative excercise to further the emerging Hip Hop and Rap music genres. Little did the artists know that, once they had beguin to make some money, they would be flooded with letters from the music studios that viewed the sampling as massive copyright infringement. Hence the movie’s controversial title, “Copyright Criminals”.

The sneak peek was followed up by Kembrew’s talk, which focused on how he viewed the entire copyright system as broken. Kembrew called on a massive engagement in the public consciousness on how copyright laws limit expressions and creativity. 

That insights is an important one, I believe. Copyright really does touch everyone. Anyone who consumes media, software or information engages copyright. Right now, I am creating copyrights as I type. Right now, these copyrights are being distributed over fiber cables all over the world, often without my express permission. It’s o.k. I won’t send any cease and desist letters! That reminds me, I need to post a creative commons license on this blog to put everyone on notice it is o.k. to post, re-distribute, and copy this blog anywhere for any purposes, as long as attribution is mentioned.

For the next post I’ll review the next lecture speaker: Danny Obrien from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The EFF is a civil rights organization that ensures companies don’t use intellectual property to quash your civil liberties, like privacy and freedom of speech.

In the meantime, please keep an eye out for “Copyright Criminals” and support them by buying some merchandise!