Thomas Jefferson's Estate Curators A Bit Behind On Thomas Jefferson's Views On Intellectual Property

from the whoops dept

We've seen all sorts of ridiculous claims about copyrights lately, with various people claiming that copyrights give them a lot more control than they really do. Over Thanksgiving weekend, I got to visit Chicago's Millennium Park for the first time and see the infamous "bean" sculpture. Last year there was a big discussion over the sculpture, after security guards told photographers (mistakenly) that they could not photograph the statue, because it was covered by copyright. I also recently attended a play where all attendees were told not to photograph the set, because of copyright issues. It seems like something similar (but even more ridiculous) may be happening down at Monticello, the historic home of Thomas Jefferson. David Pescovitz, at Boing Boing, posts about the experience of a friend who visited Monticello, only to be told that no photographs could be taken, because the estate does not own the copyrights for some of the artwork in the house. This leads to a variety of responses. First off, assuming the artwork in the house is from the time when Jefferson lived there, the copyright is long gone. Second, even if the works were covered by copyright, that does not prohibit taking photographs of them. Third, the individual tried to take a photograph of Jefferson's copy of the Declaration of Independence, over which there clearly is no copyright. It may be that photography is banned to avoid having a camera's flash hit the artwork, but to blame copyrights is wrong and misleading. It's made even worse because of Thomas Jefferson's well known views on intellectual property (which we never get tired of posting):
If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.

That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.
Apparently, the folks working at Monticello never bothered to learn much about Jefferson's own view on copyrights and patents -- and it's a shame that they would stomp on his words by misusing the concepts even further.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    kuronoir, Nov 29th, 2006 @ 3:38am

    nice

    your new comment posting method gave me an idea.. wait you are ok with that right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Bobby, Nov 29th, 2006 @ 4:41am

    Thomas Jefferson's Estate Curators A Bit Behind On

    The "Free" and open exchange of ideas. WOW!!! What a concept. Linux may be on to something after all.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    lar3ry, Nov 29th, 2006 @ 5:31am

    I may disagree on this one...

    There never has been a shortage of self-important bureaucrats that simply delight in prohibiting something for some important sounding reason. "Please don't photograph anything! It violates our copyrights!" is just some silly idiot's interpretation of something that somebody else may have told him or her, passing it along "postman style."

    Unless I see some link to a stated position of the Monticello estate that (1) they disallow photography, (2) the reason is due to copyrights, and (3) we enforce this stupid rule, then all I see is somebody (the tour guide, the tourist, whoever) taking something way out of context.

    Then again, I'm never surprised at the number of unreasonable policies that are insisted on by lawyers, especially in today's litigious world where it isn't really inconceivable that the Jefferson Foundation could be suied for contributory infringement if somebody were to take a picture of artwork owned by somebody else.

    With regard to the statement that the Foundation doesn't own the copyright to some of the artwork, then perhaps the US Treasury should be sued for contributory infringement due to the engraving of Monticello on the reverse side of the Jefferson nickel... [smile]

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Tom, Nov 29th, 2006 @ 6:49am

    Taken directly from the official Monticell website at: http://www.monticello.org/visit/guidelines_tips.html

    "Photography. Still photography, filming, and video recording for personal use are permitted on the grounds of Monticello. No photography of any kind is allowed inside the house."

    No reason given for why.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    MissingFrame, Nov 29th, 2006 @ 7:03am

    Soon will be impossible to enforce.

    These policies are nonsensical, since image sensors are becoming so prevalent eventually they'll be in things taken for granted.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2006 @ 7:05am

    Re: I may disagree on this one...

    I agree that this was probably all taken out of context or a misunderstanding on someone's part, however you state:

    "... suied for contributory infringement if somebody were to take a picture of artwork owned by somebody else ..."

    As mentioned in the article, taking a picture of art is not copyright infringement. That doesn't mean that someone wouldn't sue for it though.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    ConceptJunkie (profile), Nov 29th, 2006 @ 7:42am

    The rise of corporatocracy...

    Thanks to disinformation like this, the Corporatocracy is gaining mind-share in the American public. Any idea associated with a company is beginning to become sacrosanct to them and them alone. Copyright has become a perpetual monopoly and Fair Use is considered subversive and obsolete.

    We are slowly beginning to think that the rights of corporations are much greater than they are thanks to the tireless efforts (extortion, lies, etc) of organizations like the RIAA, MPAA, and it's getting to the point where no one has even a common sense understanding of the law.

    Combine that with a totally corrupt USPTO and we are handing our national government and power to the megacorps.

    Congratulations, America.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Thomason, Nov 29th, 2006 @ 7:44am

    Min

    Can a minimalist work be photographed?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Matt Brubeck, Nov 29th, 2006 @ 8:05am

    Out of context

    I think you're misusing that quote. Jefferson says that inventions cannot in nature be a subject of property. But he goes on to say:
    "Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property. Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from them, as an encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without claim or complaint from anybody... and it may be observed that the nations which refuse monopolies of invention, are as fruitful as England in new and useful devices."
    In other words, there's no natural force preventing ideas from being freely shared, but societies may legitimately use legal force to do so, and that this may be a good thing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Clay, Nov 29th, 2006 @ 8:08am

    Not unusual in houses for "tours"

    I was recently at Monticello, and the reason given verbally for not allowing photography was that some of the art and pieces in the house were not owned by the Jefferson estate, but lent for display by their owners. This is exactly the same explanation I have heard touring other old homes, such as in Charleston, SC. The word "copyright" was never mentioned, so I think it was an anomaly in this case. Not being able to photograph the Declaration is another thing....

    I really don't have a problem with the policy. I am happy the art owners lent their property to enhance the experience.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Brian, Nov 29th, 2006 @ 8:17am

    Wild guess: Monticello has a no-flash photo policy. The tour guide knew the policy but not it's basis, and mistakenly offered her own speculation...

    Unacceptable!!! You know what this calls for??? Another Techdirt rant against the patent system, that's what! And since there's a natural Jefferson tie-in here, Mike gets to simply imply the absurd notions stated elsewhere on his site that Jefferson was anti-Patent. Although I must admit enjoying myself while arguing this one: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20060831/144251.shtml

    Really want a headache? Try deciding if Jefferson would approve of Monticello's no-photo policy...

    Irony? http://www.inventors-world.com/pc-172-3-eastman-and-the-box-film-camera-patent.aspx

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    erinol0, Nov 29th, 2006 @ 8:23am

    Re: Out of context

    or not:

    and it may be observed that the nations which refuse monopolies of invention, are as fruitful as England in new and useful devices

    meaning: Just because we restrict the free use of ideas, doesn't mean that other societies which do not restrict ideas won't be as sucessful.

    So, if Jefferson was right, then why restrict ideas at all? It would not benefit society to do so, only the individual entity. Furthermore, why should the government reward innovation by granting monopolies? Doesn't our free-market economy already reward innovation?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    teknosapien, Nov 29th, 2006 @ 8:30am

    Umm wait a moment

    Doesn't this stuff actually belong to the American public?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    The Original Just Matt, Nov 29th, 2006 @ 8:31am

    The nickel and Monticello

    I belive that the nickel came first and Jefferson's architect based his the plans on that design. Therefore the US Treasury is able to sue the estate for infringement.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), Nov 29th, 2006 @ 8:42am

    Re:

    Wild guess: Monticello has a no-flash photo policy. The tour guide knew the policy but not it's basis, and mistakenly offered her own speculation...

    Which, in fact, I say in the post. However, the point of the post is to note the growing trend of these types of "misunderstandings" and how it shows that people don't understand how copyright works -- and the potential problems that leads to.

    Mike gets to simply imply the absurd notions stated elsewhere on his site that Jefferson was anti-Patent.

    Absurd notion? I like how you completely ignore what he said, which makes it very clear that he's uncomfortable with intellectual monopolies.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), Nov 29th, 2006 @ 8:44am

    Re: Out of context

    I think you're misusing that quote.

    I don't think so. Even your quote ends with:

    "and it may be observed that the nations which refuse monopolies of invention, are as fruitful as England in new and useful devices."

    That still supports the point that creating intellectual monopolies does not necessarily lead to benefit. And, as the Constitution makes clear, you should only be able to create such monopolies if it does lead to the promotion of useful science and arts. If that's not what's happening, then it is forbidden.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Smartypants, Nov 29th, 2006 @ 9:13am

    Yes, your idea belongs to the world if it comes out of your narrowminded brain AND you DO NOT apply for patent. This is the way it works. Before you quote Jefferson out of context, please read the book (it is free! - how about that!): http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/mpep.htm

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2006 @ 9:19am

    misundersedimated the meanings of said word.

    or something like that.

    anyway, i've seen many places that don't allow flash photography, due to historical preservation. i've also seen no photograph due to copyrights (live shows, art galleries and the like)

    now, as for others lending artwork for histric displays, do they collect royalties from said opperation? i mean, their work is used to generate revenue.

    what about owners of orginal artwork that gets reproduced. say i "buy" the mona lisa. does every company that makes posters, post cards, shirts etc. owe me now now? do i own the rights to the painting? or do i just own the pysical copy? (maybe the mona lisa is a bad example coz it's quite old and in the public domain? how about something more recend, say andy whorhal stuff, or works of i dunno who is "popular" these days)

    but do you catch my drift?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    The Original Just Me, Nov 29th, 2006 @ 9:23am

    Visiting Monticello

    I'll be visiting Monticello in about a month as part of a trip to D.C. I've sent a request to the estate owners asking for clarification on photographing their collection, especially the Declaration of Independence. It will be interesting to see what they have to say.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Ballenger, Nov 29th, 2006 @ 9:37am

    Aside from the issue of copyright and the effect of flash light on artifacts, there are two more reasons places like Monticello and a lot of museums don't allow photography in some areas. One, constant flash photography is irritating to people taking the tours and the guides if it's an interpreted tour. And secondly, they sell photos, slides and books with pictures in most of their gift shops. Protecting this gift shop business predates the current copyright frenzy by decades. Given the cost of maintaining these historical sites, many of which are self-supporting, this is one policy which in theory I don't agree with, but which in the real world helps to support historical preservation.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    MikeLove, Nov 29th, 2006 @ 9:53am

    My major complaint with the tour guide was using the word 'copyright' to intimidate people. I would have never have brought out the camera if she had said "we ask you not to photograph inside the house because the donors who own the art say so." I would have thought it annoying on the donors' part but that's not the foundation's fault. The problem is spreading ignorance about the law by claiming copyright on things that are clearly out of the copyright.

    That issue aside, I would hope that donors in the future will recognize that a non-flash photo assuredly does not decrease the interest in the place where the art is displayed or the worth of those pieces of art.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Ray Richards, Nov 29th, 2006 @ 10:11am

    Idiots with cameras

    I am certain that the reason photography is banned is simply because of the plethora of idiots with digital cameras who have no idea how to turn off the flash.

    As a photographer, I have been denied access to many legitimate photographic opportunities simply due to the idiocy of the masses weighed against the preservation of articles of historical significance.

    It's much easier to ban photography outright than ban flash photography only and have to contend with people that won't RTFM for their camera.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Smartypants, Nov 29th, 2006 @ 12:36pm

    Re: Out of context

    Amen.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Scott Carpenter, Nov 29th, 2006 @ 8:30pm

    More contextual evidence

    In addition to what others have said supporting that the quote was taken in context, we can take a little bit more:

    "but, generally speaking, other nations have thought that these monopolies produce more embarrassment than advantage to society; and it may be observed that the nations which refuse monopolies of invention, are as fruitful as England in new and useful devices".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    jordan, Nov 30th, 2006 @ 10:52am

    Re: Umm wait a moment

    Nope. Its privately owned.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Chad Wollerton, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 7:32am

    Clarification from Monticello

    Dear all,

    In response to a couple of e-mails we received from people who've read this post, I've got some clarification about Monticello's policy on photography inside the house. From our Curator:

    Our policy, like that of many museums, is that we do not allow interior photography. There are several reasons for this. First, Monticello has very limited space in its rooms where valuable objects are displayed. Taking pictures in a space crowded with people and objects is potentially hazardous to the objects. (Imagine someone backing up get a better shot, etc.) Second, Monticello is only seen by guided tour, and it is distracting to others when photographs are being taken. Third, we don't own everything on exhibit, and some of our lenders do not wish their loaned objects to be photographed. In contrast, our policy does allow exterior photography of the house and surrounding buildings and grounds, where none of these issues is a problem.

    As you can see this is quite a mouthful to add to the beginning of each tour (along with warnings about chewing gum and leaning on the walls and all the required historical context). But the general point about the use of the word copyright is correct; most of the collection on display is not protected by copyright (though a few recently crafted reproductions are). So, as a result of the e-mails and the blogs, we did send out a clarification to our staff to state our policy without elaboration (at least initially), to explain it more fully if asked, and to not use the word copyright when doing so.

    Last, I thought some of you might be interested in an upcoming podcast of a cool talk given at our Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies on Jefferson and Intellectual Property. As some you may know, Jefferson was on the first patent board under Constitution and had a lot to say on the subject. Having just received permission from the speaker, I hope to have the talk posted by mid-December and will send an alert and more details to this blog (if I'm still welcome :-) when it's available. If you have any more questions, you can e-mail me at cwollerton@monticello.org.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Scott Carpenter, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 12:14pm

    Interesting -- thanks, Chad.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Chad Wollerton, Dec 11th, 2006 @ 1:35pm

    Podcast on Jefferson and Intellectual Property

    As promised a podcast on Jefferson and IP, with a look at his role on the first patent board:

    http://www.monticello.org/podcasts/icjs_podcast.html

    Plus, on 12/1/2006 Science Friday did one on how the current patent-granting process is affecting scientific discovery.

    http://www.sciencefriday.com/pages/2006/Dec/hour2_120106.html

    (Link to audio is in the box on upper right).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2007 @ 9:46pm

    "The fact is that one new idea leads to another, that to a third, and so on through a course of time until someone, with whom no one of these ideas was original, combines all together, and produces what is justly called a new invention."
    – Thomas Jefferson

    Jefferson would be csidered a flip flopper today in regards to patents. The qoute you gleefully post was from Jefferson's earlier views. he chnged his mind to find the value of patents. Basically, you are wrong in claiming TJ's earlier views as de facto.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2007 @ 11:03pm

    Re: The rise of corporatocracy...

    you are correct sir and they ravaging our patent system to boot. Multinationals are hellbent on assailing the rights of independent inventors.

    I think Jefferson would be appalled by today's monopolies. But it's actually opposite of his orginal fear that patents created monoplies. these days multinationals infringe patents and don't worry too much - they'll just pay off Pelosi and company and change the patent system to fit thier business model. All the top Silicon Valley companies forget where they came from.
    Now they just pull the ladder up from undeneath them. And say "screw you to the little guy. In the process, they stifle innovation and kill the golden goose of America: our gold standard patent system.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2007 @ 11:21pm

    Re: The rise of corporatocracy...

    you are correct sir and they ravaging our patent system to boot. Multinationals are hellbent on assailing the rights of independent inventors.

    I think Jefferson would be appalled by today's monopolies. But it's actually opposite of his orginal fear that patents created monoplies. these days multinationals infringe patents and don't worry too much - they'll just pay off Pelosi and company and change the patent system to fit thier business model. All the top Silicon Valley companies forget where they came from.
    Now they just pull the ladder up from undeneath them. And say "screw you to the little guy. In the process, they stifle innovation and kill the golden goose of America: our gold standard patent system.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This