Gershwin Heirs Fight Over Copyright Royalties

from the oh-please,-make-it-stop dept

The heirs of George and Ira Gershwin (the famous songwriting brothers) were leaders (right alongside Disney) in the fight for copyright extension a decade ago. They insisted that it wasn't about the money, but about making sure that their work wasn't presented in a way of which they disapproved ("Someone could turn 'Porgy and Bess' into rap music" was the complaint from Mark Gershwin, conveniently ignoring that much of the Gershwin's work pulled concepts from African American music). Yet, if it's not about money, why are the Gershwin heirs suddenly involved in legal battles all about who gets the money?

Copycense points us to the news of a variety of legal battles from the heirs on different sides of the family squabbling over who gets what rights to foreign royalties. Of course, they're fighting over who still gets to make money on songs that were all written prior to 1937 (when George died). When those songs were written, the "promise" copyright gave them would have already put all those songs in the public domain by now. One would think these heirs (none of them actually direct descendants of either George or Ira -- since neither had children) would be thrilled that the government went back on the promise it made to the public and granted them even more monopoly rents for a few more decades and kept quiet. But, apparently, that's not the way these things go.


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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 10:11am

    Just when I thought that intellectual property nonsense couldn't get any more ridiculous, this comes up. Is there no end to the ridiculous nature of intellectual property maximism?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 10:20am

    "Yet, if it's not about money, why are the Gershwin heirs suddenly involved in legal battles all about who gets the money?"

    Asking an intellectual property maximists to tell the truth is like talking to the wall. Did you honestly believe that intellectual property maximists would tell the truth? Intellectual property maximists have no absolutely regard for morality, lying is no problem to them. They lie as fluently as the language they speak. It's just sad that they have a disproportional amount of control over our broken government. They ought to be ignored by our government and put in jail for stealing from the public domain.

     

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    Marcus Carab (profile), Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 10:20am

    The moment a rights holder makes a comment like that one about Porgy & Bess as (gasp!) rap music, it shows that they have become megalomaniacs and should no longer be paid any attention to. Anyone who thinks that they, rather than society at large, can determine what is valuable as art has lost touch.

    The last people we want controlling the rights to famous works of music are those who will casually brush off an entire burgeoning genre, as if it goes without saying that it's all worthless crap.

     

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    martyinarizona (profile), Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 10:32am

    Property Rights.

    Public domane be damned. Why should the Gershwin family have to give up what is rightfully theirs? The work of the Gershwin brothers is their property. Truly no different than if it were land. Should the family farm suddenly become public property? What if it were YOUR property? How would you view it then?

     

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 10:37am

    Re: Property Rights.

    "The work of the Gershwin brothers is their property. Truly no different than if it were land. Should the family farm suddenly become public property?"

    Oh! It's property, like a farm! I get it now and you're right.

    Real quick question there, Marty my boy. How much in property taxes did the Gershwin heirs pay for their farm-like property? Have they ever tried to get a mortgage loan on old ass Gershwin songs?

    Or hey, maybe it's not "Truly no different than if it were land", huh Sparky?

     

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    vyvyan, Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 10:38am

    Now I'm waiting to hear someone reporting that they do are some sort of rap music, and roam about in LA streets with their jeans hanging below their ass and they failed to recognize some Gershwin song being played on radio. Where are you Paparazzo, the world needs you. :P

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 10:39am

    Re: Property Rights.

    I can't tell if you're just being sarcastic

    No one owes these people a monopoly and if society is to grant a monopoly it should ONLY be to the extent that it helps out society. We are better off with no intellectual property laws than with the one sided intellectual property laws that we currently have.

    Also,physical property laws should also only exist to the extent that they are best from society (and the argument for their existence is that having some physical property laws is good for society). Neither intellectual property nor physical property laws should be exempt from this criteria.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 10:42am

    Re: Property Rights.

    Well, let's see, if it were "my property", and I were dead, then I could care less about what happens to it.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 10:43am

    Re: Re: Property Rights.

    With physical property one must pay taxes for the acquisition, maintenance/position, and sale of the property. Why should intellectual property be any different? Let them pay yearly taxes just to keep the intellectual property.

    and I don't just mean sales taxes on the products sold, you have to pay that with or without intellectual property. I mean taxes on the land/building, on the position of the intellectual property.

     

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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 11:08am

    Re: Property Rights.

    "Public domane be damned."

    Damn skippy! How else is Gershwin going to be encouraged to produce new works?! Without multi-generational copyrights he might give up altogether!

     

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    Richard (profile), Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 11:23am

    If he died in 1937

    Then his copyrights all expired on 31st December 2007 didn't they? SO what is this about?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 11:37am

    Heh. 'Porgy and Bess in to rap music'. Too late... I can think of at least three songs with heavy samples of "Summertime". Of course, in the tradition of great music everywhere, Gershwin shamelessly stole the theme for Summertime from a (gasp) public domain Ukrainian lullaby.

    I strongly suspect that both Ira and George would smack their putative relatives around for attempting to stifle the ability to create great music.

     

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    Vincent Clement, Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 11:51am

    Thing is, if rap artists did incorporate Gershwin clips into their songs, you would probably see an increase in interest in Gershwin music and an increase in sales. But most heirs are too stupid to see that.

     

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    Marcus Carab (profile), Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 11:59am

    Re:

    That's a good point. The beat producers nowadays don't get enough credit for re-introducing music to a new generation. Most hip-hop producers and DJs I've met have a ridiculously vast knowledge of music, both mainstream and obscure, and are constantly, ravenously searching for anything new from the entire history of musical culture.

    Of course, they are often forced to hide their sources for fear of being sued, or to simply abandon their projects altogether.

     

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    LostSailor (profile), Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 12:12pm

    STFU

    One would think these heirs...would be thrilled that the government went back on the promise it made to the public and granted them even more monopoly rents for a few more decades and kept quiet.

    Yeah!! How dare these people go to court to decide legal differences between them! What are they, Communists??

    They should just shut the frak up and count their filthy, ill-gotten lucre in private. They should be on their knees thanking us that we haven't come over with pitchforks and flaming torches to wrest away from them rights and money that shouldn't have been theirs in the first place!

    Of all the unmitigated gall, effrontery, and insolence!!!

     

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    LostSailor (profile), Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 12:15pm

    Re: Re: Property Rights.

    We are better off with no intellectual property laws than with the one sided intellectual property laws that we currently have.

    As seems to be usual around these parts, even the concept of a middle ground is ignored. This is not an "either/or" matter of only the extremes.

     

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 12:32pm

    Re: Re: Re: Property Rights.

    "As seems to be usual around these parts, even the concept of a middle ground is ignored."

    That is just a blatantly idiotic statement. There all kinds around TechDirt. I for one regularly argue for a middle ground, although the last time I did I had some jackass AC call it a "strawman" and dismiss it.

    Seriously, what the hell? I mean, I'm glad you at least post under a consistent unique moniker, but if you think the "usual" around here is without a middle ground then you either aren't paying attention or you're attempting to use victimization to favor your position. Either way, as a semi-regular and ergo fairly informed person around here, you ought to be ashamed of that remark.

     

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    LostSailor (profile), Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 1:02pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Property Rights.

    Dark, let's be honest. Nearly anyone who comments here that is in any way supportive of copyright is a "maximalist" and not infrequently called a "liar" or worse. The majority theme around here is that copyright is completely unnecessary and has never done any good for society, and proponents of copyright are actually the one's "stealing" from the public.

    I post under a consistent username, and I'm registered here. I'm sure that Mike could likely find out who I am with little effort, since he's have access to that registration.

    And I don't disagree with the proposition that copyright and it's major corporate defenders have gotten out of hand. Term of copyright is far too long and should be restricted; the problem of "orphan works" is a real concern (and is an issue that could be most easily dealt with in Congress--and is at least being discussed there to some degree); the doctrine of fair use should be legislatively codified and expanded (though I understand arguments to the contrary that this could have the unintended effect of making fair use considerations too rigid).

    I've commented on these issues before and am usually roundly derided as noted above.

    There are moderate voices here, but they tend to be drowned out and given scant, if any, consideration by most commenters.

    So, yes, I think I am fairly well informed about these subjects, and I read Techdirt regularly (though I only comment sporadically)

    And no, I'm not ashamed of my remark.

     

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  19.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 1:57pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Property Rights.

    "Dark, let's be honest. Nearly anyone who comments here that is in any way supportive of copyright is a "maximalist" and not infrequently called a "liar" or worse."

    But that's NOT true. I'm a prime example. I call lies when I see them from both sides, and if you don't think I'm fairly critical of both sides of the IP argument, you just aren't paying attention. And I think you're missing a great number of people out there if you think that to a manner of degree I'm not closer to the norm in terms of stance (lord knows I'm more vociferous and crass). For every "fawk the RIAA" opinion you have far, far more measured responses, particularly on TechDirt's more measured, "serious" stories. I'm just not sure why you seem to see yourself as a victim around here.

    "I post under a consistent username, and I'm registered here."

    Right, and I mentioned that. I for one wouldn't guess that you're anyone associated with the industry. You don't appear to have that "explain away the bullshit parts of what they do at all costs" tone that my favorite Weird Coward has.

    "I've commented on these issues before and am usually roundly derided as noted above."

    By who? And roundly? That means in large majority. Maybe I've missed the posts where this happens, but I haven't seen it. I'm sure I've disagreed with you before, maybe even attempted an over the top response with some crude humor in it (I've been known to do that), but I've never seen you roundly decried as a liar. Ever.

    "There are moderate voices here, but they tend to be drowned out and given scant, if any, consideration by most commenters."

    Bull. If you asked me to pound out a few names of commentors on TechDirt from memory, I'd come up with:

    1. Mike Masnick (semi-moderate)
    2. Lobo Santo (who knows, probably somewhat moderate)
    3. aguywhoneedstenbucks (moderate)
    4. Derek Kerton (moderate)
    5. Haphaestus (sorry for the spelling, doing this from memory, but he's on the less moderate side, I'd say)
    6. Angry Dude (Crazy non-moderate Pro IP)
    7. Weird Harold (Transparent voice of the content industries, whether paid or not)

    That's all I can remember this late in the day. The point? Those I remember at least aren't drowned out and they certainly aren't on the extreme end of the spectrum.

    I consider myself moderate. I wouldn't do away with copyright OR patents completely and regularly argue for the middle ground and for an honest discourse. This site sure as shit ain't about me, but since you brought it up, am I drowned out? Am I given scant attention? Am I roundly derided?

    I don't think any of those are true. There are people who like to go into attack mode (half the time I appreciate it because they're FUNNY, and that's what I like most), and I certainly get those that disagree with me, including Mike. But I don't think you could say I'm roundly ignored OR derided.

    "And no, I'm not ashamed of my remark."

    When you allow your personal affront to get in the way of seeing the truth, you kind of should be. Sorry, just opinion I guess...

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 2:24pm

    Turning Porgy and Bess into a rap couldn't possibly hurt it.

     

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    batch, Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 2:49pm

    Re: STFU

    What did they do to earn a free lunch to begin with?

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 3:04pm

    Re: Re: Re: Property Rights.

    I am not arguing against a middle ground but, as is normal for intellectual property maximists, they consider anything other than intellectual property maximism to be not middle ground.

    I never said that "we are better off with no intellectual property laws than with intellectual property laws." Had I said that then THAT would be arguing against a middle ground.

    Now get over your stupid reading comprehension problem already and stop interpreting anything that disagrees with intellectual property maximism as being something that completely argues against intellectual property.

    and the fact is that intellectual property maximists aren't interested in a middle ground. They keep lobbying for extensions and junk and they want more restrictions and they sue over stupid things and they MISINTERPRET everything that doesn't agree with intellectual property maximism and given their clearly selfish motives and dishonest behavior it makes one question the true purpose and hence function of intellectual property (note: purpose is intended consequences, function is actual consequences).

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 3:09pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Property Rights.

    No, the majority theme here is that the current laws are not equitable and that they're entirely one sided and ridiculous. The intellectual property contract between society and intellectual property right holders is a ONE SIDED contract that is not equitable to both parties.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 3:16pm

    Re:

    I despise rap and think it is a lame artform, but even still, to dismiss it so callously and elitely as these nutballs do is apalling to me.

     

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    The Groove Tiger (profile), Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 3:30pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Property Rights.

    Ah, I see what you mean. By "middle ground" you mean the EXTREME maximalist response. And by extreme you mean, anything different than said EXTREME maximalist response.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 3:57pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Property Rights.

    "Nearly anyone who comments here that is in any way supportive of copyright is a "maximalist" and not infrequently called a "liar" or worse."

    They are called dishonest when they behave dishonestly.

    "Dark, let's be honest."

    How honest is it for you to interpret the phrase

    "We are better off with no intellectual property laws than with the one sided intellectual property laws that we currently have."

    As being one against a middle ground? Either you're

    A: Dishonest

    B: You have some serious reading comprehension problem.

    If it's A then when you say, "let's be honest." you yourself are not being honest which brings your whole claim into question.

    If it's B and your reading comprehension really is that bad then why should I trust your interpretation of the majority theme here when you claim to speak for the majority here?

     

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  27.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 4:18pm

    Re: Re: Re: Property Rights.

    It's also worth pointing out that, although Techdirt regularly features examples of how minimalist copyright or no copyright can work or has worked, I don't think the point has ever been to say that is the solution for the world today. These examples are there to remind people that there is an opposite end of the scale -- since maximalism is nearly ensconced as natural in so many minds -- not to advocate abandoning copyright.

     

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  28.  
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    Lisa (profile), Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 5:08pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Property Rights.

    You can put me down under "okay with copyright as long as the terms aren't absurdly long" category.

     

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  29.  
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    Derek Kerton (profile), Nov 4th, 2009 @ 5:18pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Property Rights.

    "The majority theme around here is that copyright is completely unnecessary and has never done any good for society, and proponents of copyright are actually the one's "stealing" from the public."

    Yeah. I just don't thing that's true.

    I think the prevailing belief here is that copyright and patents may be reasonable, but if so, only in some much more limited fashion then our current policy. People here also notice that the direction we are traveling is steadily towards increased IP protections, when all the evidence suggests we have already gone too far.

    Yet when we hear from pro-IP posters, they typically don't make nuanced arguments like "IP is needed, zero IP is wrong, but just needs to be scaled back and measured against the costs it imposes on society", but instead make bullish statements like "IP is good, is needed, and if a little of it is good, then a lot of it can only be better." The Pro-IP camp often says things that illustrate a "screw Public Domain" argument. They seem to be oblivious that there is a public that sacrifices something in allowing IP. They seem oblivious to differences between real property and ideas. They think compensating heirs for ideas of the parent is good for society. Now, some Pro-IP people that stop in here DO make decent cases, but most don't. I think the reason is that in order to argue for stronger IP in this era, you HAVE to be extremely pro-IP. The IP extensions have gone so far that few moderates find themselves on the "more IP" side. In a zero copyright world, I might be pro-IP! But I'd be Jeffersonian in acknowledging the trade-offs and high societal cost of monopoly.

    I think this was an entirely reasonable statement:
    "We are better off with no intellectual property laws than with the one sided intellectual property laws that we currently have."
    Because the AC is not saying there is no middle ground, as you claim he said. What he said is that, given the choice between nothing and our current IP policies, nothing would be preferable.

    You shouldn't mis-interpret everything as being either black and white, then complain that everything here is either black or white!

     

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  30.  
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    Derek Kerton (profile), Nov 4th, 2009 @ 5:28pm

    Re: STFU

    a: I believe his is clearly referring to the prior legal battle to prevent this music from being incorporated into Rap. But feel free to misinterpret at will if it makes your point.

    b: other than cool vocabulary, the rest of what you wrote makes no sense at all. Mike's point was that a decade earlier THEY said it wasn't about the money. Now, it's about the money. That makes them liars...(not communists? WTF are you getting at?)

    "Of all the gall." Well, even if you didn't mean it, at least you got that right.

     

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  31.  
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    Freedom is Freeloading, Nov 4th, 2009 @ 9:30pm

    Bull. If you asked me to pound out a few names of [the more moderate] commentors on TechDirt from memory, I'd come up with:

    1. Mike Masnick (semi-moderate)



    LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

     

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  32.  
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    LostSailor (profile), Nov 5th, 2009 @ 8:04am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Property Rights.

    Sorry, wasn't able to get online most of yesterday, but wanted to reply.

    First, I'm not painting myself as a victim; I can deal with honest criticism and will (and have) admitted when I've been wrong or mistaken. And I never said that there weren't moderate voice here (or "copyright maximalist" voices). I said that when commenters post those positions, they are responded to with frequently crude and insulting comments, sometimes anonymously and sometimes not.

    I have had reasonable, rational discussions in comments and have read others, but these are quite few and far between. Far more often than not, comments devolve into pointedly insulting shouting matches. If you haven't seen those threads, you have indeed missed something.

    I'll be generous and mostly agree that Mike is semi-moderate, but that may need reconsideration. I have never read Mike to advocate legislative repeal of copyright law (wisely, since it verges on the impossible), but he's also said any number of times that he sees no value at all in copyright (and patents, which I don't know much about so don't comment on) and that there never really has been. Mike's a smart guy, but that is not really a moderate or semi-moderate position; it's rather radical.

    I've often argued for restoring balance to copyright law between the rights of the public domain and the rights of the creators are brought back to a more reasonable trade-off. Mike is squarely against even considering that, and comes close to calling for the abolition of copyright. In this post Mike says: "The more you focus on balance, the more useless your recommendations are." He also engages in some subtle ridicule of a "moderate" position.

    Hmmm....maybe that reconsideration is coming sooner than I thought.

    When you allow your personal affront to get in the way of seeing the truth, you kind of should be. Sorry, just opinion I guess...

    I was not "affronted" by the anonymous poster's comment: "We are better off with no intellectual property laws than with the one sided intellectual property laws that we currently have." I merely noted that that the statement doesn't even consider the middle ground (we'd be better off with real copyright reform than with either what we have today or no copyright at all). And that seems to be a fairly usual opinion around here.

    Simply abolishing copyright would be hugely disruptive in the short term and while there would be undoubtedly some societal benefits in the long term there will also be unforeseen harm (there always is) that goes largely unconsidered here.

    I am firmly convinced that there will be rational public discussion of these issues now and more in the near future. I just don't necessarily expect to find it here.

     

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  33.  
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    LostSailor (profile), Nov 5th, 2009 @ 8:06am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Property Rights.

    There was supposed to be a link in the above to Mike's post The Myth of Copyright 'Balance'

     

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  34.  
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    LostSailor (profile), Nov 5th, 2009 @ 8:44am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Property Rights.

    Well, then, in the interests of discussion, let's look at what you said:
    No one owes these people a monopoly and if society is to grant a monopoly it should ONLY be to the extent that it helps out society. We are better off with no intellectual property laws than with the one sided intellectual property laws that we currently have.

    There is nowhere there any specific mention of any middle ground. But I will allow that there is a tepid implication that a middle ground might exist, but it's a rather pale example.

    Now let's look at what I said:
    As seems to be usual around these parts, even the concept of a middle ground is ignored. This is not an "either/or" matter of only the extremes.


    And your response:
    I am not arguing against a middle ground but, as is normal for intellectual property maximists, they consider anything other than intellectual property maximism to be not middle ground....Now get over your stupid reading comprehension problem already and stop interpreting anything that disagrees with intellectual property maximism as being something that completely argues against intellectual property.


    Talk about reading comprehension. Where I specifically say that the issue is not a matter of the extremes, but of the middle ground (and, yes, I know others may disagree on both sides), you read that as a statement in support of a "maximsm" position.

    The behavior of copyright "maximists" may or may not be dishonest, stupid, and selfish, but that is irrelevant to the purpose and function of intellectual property policy or law. Purpose is indeed intended consequence: the purpose of intellectual property, as Mike frequently points out, is to "promote progress of science and useful arts." And it has; our society at large has been prolifically progressing in science, technology, and art, all under the umbrella of intellectual property policy and law.

    But function is not "actual consequences." Function is the action that achieves the purpose. Intellectual property functions by incentivizing creativity by guaranteeing the exclusive right to the creator to economically exploit their creation for a period of time. In other words, the exclusive right to profit as the market allows from the creation. There are many forms of profit, such as fame, acclaim, honor, but mostly this mean monetary profit. And it can be a powerful incentive.

    Proponents of the "no intellectual property" position rarely, if ever (and if I've missed it, I'd love to see it) examine the real potential disincentives to creativity in no copyright "free market" free-for-all. When large corporate entities appropriate others' creations without recompense on a large scale, they may or may not innovate with those creations, and while "society" may derive some benefit, it also creates a rather large disincentive to create.

    There may be barriers to creativity under intellectual property law (to what extent is debatable, and has been debated for centuries) but there are also real economic disincentives to having no intellectual property law. Which is why such laws were implemented in the first place.

    This debate is not new by any stretch. It's just that technology has changed some of the parameters on the margins.

     

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    LostSailor (profile), Nov 5th, 2009 @ 8:45am

    Re: Re: STFU

    What does that matter? What did a lottery winner do to earn a jackpot. What did an heir do to earn an inheritance? The question is irrelevant.

     

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  36.  
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    LostSailor (profile), Nov 5th, 2009 @ 9:01am

    Re: Re: STFU

    Ah, the "misinterpret" card. No misinterpretation here. Mike is clearly saying the Gershwin heirs should:

    a. be grateful for what he thinks is unearned largess
    b. not pursue their legal rights because they once said "it's not about money"

    As if hypocrites can't go to court. I also note that Mike once excoriated me in comments that "should," being a "moral" issue, is irrelevant to copyright debate.

    But even that's not true. Mike apparently didn't thoroughly read the article he linked to in support of his claim that the Gershwin heirs (actually the Gershwin Trust) lobbied for copyright extension claiming it wasn't about money. Here, from the linked article:
    Today [1998, during the Sonny Bono extension debate], the Gershwin Family Trust points out that the copyright extension is not only about money but also about control of how a work is presented.
    So, indeed, they never claimed there was no monetary element to their lobbying, therefore they are neither hypocrites nor liars.

    Of all the gall...

     

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    Derek Kerton (profile), Nov 11th, 2009 @ 12:14pm

    Re: Re: Re: STFU

    If your 1998 quote is correct, then you got me. I retract my argument (b) above. I still think you used cool vocab, and that it made little sense, but I was wrong. The heirs are not hypocrites, and have been consistently motivated by money.

     

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


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