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  • May 17th, 2012 @ 3:58pm

    Innovation *has* slowed

    bob writes, "the US has had a strong patent system for 200+ years. . . . the US has also lead the world in innovation in many forms for many years and . . . the US's innovation has accelerated as IP laws got stronger"

    Really? Do you have a source on this? How do you measure innovation? The usual indicator is (drum roll please) number of patent filings.

    Where is your accelerating invention? Since the latter half of the 20th century we've developed the birth control pill, the microprocessor, digital networking, cell phones, and stem cells. All but the last of these more than a quarter century ago. Compare that with the first half of the 20th century when countries were being electrified, the automobile, radio and film became a consumer products, and the air plane, air conditioning, plastics, sonar & radar, television, mass production, rocketry, computers, penicillin, the transistor, and the atom bomb were invented.

    Patents have always been used to form cartels. Immediately following WWII, U.S. courts became very sceptical of patents, emphasizing free competition backed up by antitrust regulation. But from the 1980s on patents have been prioritized over competition. (See May & Sell, Intellectual Property Rights: A Critical History). In the past 30 years, what has that bought us? People like to tell themselves that the pace of technological change is faster than ever, but the truth is it's positively sluggish compared to a hundred years ago.

    And whereas the early U.S. deliberately disregarded foreign intellectual property restrictions in order to promote the development of its own industries, today its preeminent political and economic power after Europe civilization almost suicided in Wold War II puts it in a position to impose restrictive regulation on the rest of the world. Of *course* the U.S. attracts smart people from around the world - but that doesn't mean patents are the reason for American innovation. If they have any positive effect from the U.S. point of view, it is to retard the development of competition.

  • Dec 13th, 2010 @ 12:44pm

    (untitled comment)

    cade writes, "I'm Canadian as well. And I hold no illusions that we don't have many of the same influences on the press here."

    Heh. I feel a bit foolish, but my argument stands. What you say about Canada is of course absolutely true. I'm sure our government would react similarly if given the opportunity. In that case though, who but Canadians would care? The impact of this falls particularly hard on the U.S. (as it should) given its power and its claims of free speech.

    You are also correct about the strong influence of politics on the press. I read some research recently finding that politicians influence the press more than the other way around (unfortunately I'm not sure so can't check it or its broader validity).

  • Dec 13th, 2010 @ 12:13pm

    (untitled comment)

    crade writes, "Some forms of influence are widely accepted. Press releases are influence, as is the police asking the press to hold off on a story so as not to hinder an investigation. Having to worry about following U.S. laws is a form of influence and pressure."

    If you're trying to understand the perspectives of non-Americans, American interests and laws are not a good starting point.

    You may think that these forms of U.S. are legitimate. In America such interventions are justified on the basis of national security. I'm Canadian. To "foreigners" like me attempts to impose American standards and law outside the U.S. appear illegitimate. American interests and the particulars of U.S. law are beside the point.

    I think the United States has no comprehension of what they have done. The extraordinary power of the U.S. has been legitimated on the basis of lofty ideals like democracy and freedom of speech. When the U.S. does something bad, this is explained as a failure to execute rather than malice. E.g., hundreds of thousands died in Iraq - but at least America had good intentions.

    The American response to WikiLeaks has shattered the basis for American legitimacy abroad. In the contest between its interests and its claimed ideals, the U.S. has decisively chosen hypocrisy. Mike talks as though the American reaction is a tactical error. I think most of the world sees it as revealing the true face of American power.

    Americans donít get this because their starting point is American interests. Government elites there and elsewhere donít get it because they had few illusions. But ordinary folks did. Check out the message boards on the CBC or the Globe and Mail, Canadaís main news sites. They are running 4 to 1 for WikiLeaks over the U.S. - or worse. They donít want to be subjects of an empire. And this is *Canada*, where we feel strong kinship with the American people.

  • Dec 4th, 2009 @ 9:49pm

    Since when was TV a good thing?

    I hope this mother is not representative. What parent would want their daughter watching more TV rather than less? To me, this seems about on par with a mother forcing her daughter to drink Coca-Cola. Coke may taste great and be worth the experience, but this is out of all proportion to the significance of whether she does or does not drink.

    When I was growing up in the there was a general sense that TV was not good for people. At best it was not good, not bad. When I went to university, watching TV was basically a form of slacking. Having one in your dorm room was a sign of extravagance. And this was not so long ago - I'm talking about the 1980s and 90s here.

    Now I almost get the feeling that TV (by which I mean the experience of sitting in front of the tube as an activity independent of any particular show, many of which are very good) is almost being put in a class with classic literature. We need to protect it with extreme copyright less it be underproduced in the market! I sometimes wonder if this the action of a generation that grew up with TV treating it as a special cultural form (like rock music) to which all future generations should pay homage. It was good for us (we're good, and we watched it so it must have been) - it will be good for you.

    I should say that I am not a fan of classic literature, nor am I proponent of a distinction between high and low culture. Furthermore, I am quite aware of the tremendous amount of cultural studies research showing that people interpret popular culture in their own ways, so claims that TV is bad are simplistic. (On the other hand, there is also research indicating TV causes significant social harm.) But academic research is beside the point. The social discourse about TV sure has changed. When did TV become something that the younger generation needs to watch?

  • Oct 19th, 2009 @ 4:37pm

    Appears to be commercial infringement

    I am not a fan of Access Copyright. Their lobbying and proposals in the recent copyright consultation here in Canada have been about as regressive as it gets.

    However, if AC's own report is accurate (do we have a third-party source?), it appears that a) the shop is a business independent of the university, and b) it was illegally manufacturing bulk copies of textbooks. If so, then the shop is not being busted for providing equipment so that students can make their own copies - something permitted under Canada's private study exemption (I'm not a lawyer). The shop's activities sound like exactly the kind of commercial infringement that copyright has always been meant to prevent.

  • Oct 9th, 2009 @ 10:48pm

    A different balance

    I agree with you that copyright is not and should not be a balance between creators and users. Effective copyright should benefit everyone.

    However, I have a problem with your claim that "the standard on which copyright law should be judged is one where the creation of content is maximized." This implies that the object of copyright is the quantity of works.

    First, not all works are of equal value. Some are not beneficial at all. We have quite a bit of evidence, for example, that television has had deleterious social effects. See Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone, or a study Andrew Leonard cited today on How the World Works correlating TV viewing with levels of personal debt in the U.S. There are plenty of other examples, from hate speech to annoying advertising, of creativity that is less valuable than average.

    Before anyone fetches their pitchforks and accuses me of proposing to censor speech or the like, I am saying nothing of the sort. In order to achieve its goals, copyright already imposes limits on speech. The law already makes judgments about which expressions are more desirable (or original). Set the wrong goals, and you will limit - censor - valuable speech. We already see this happening.

    Second, the value of creative works is realized in use. It makes more sense to aim to maximize the benefit of works than their creation.

    Third, much of the value of creativity does not reside in works at all. Creative activity is itself valuable, even when little or nothing of significance is produced. We believe that it is essential for our kids to engage in creative activity even when their art is not objectively very good. The same is true for adults. The process of creating is a form of thinking, of reflection, of education, of understanding ourselves and the world. It is often a shared activity or performance that builds relationships with others.

    Copyright should maximize the benefits of creativity. Not the production of content alone. I won't claim this is easy to determine. But measuring quantity is not a better approach just because counting is easy. In practice, we are not really looking for some sort of maximum value. We are trying to make better choices with the law, and avoid worse choices. Most of the time, the choice that would maximize the benefits of creativity is pretty clear. (The cynic in me responds: and most of the time we make the opposite choice.)

  • Oct 1st, 2009 @ 1:46pm

    Dvorak has not been debunked

    Mike, the article you link to about Dvorak is inconclusive. It cites flaws in the studies that found Dvorak superior, but all that does is leave the matter unresolved. Its claim seems to amount to "no competing keyboard has offered enough advantage to warrant a change." Well sure. That is no argument against path dependence. The article basically makes a circular argument that the the market's choices are optimal, so QWERTY is better.

    The article caricatures path dependence as absolute "lock in." In fact, path dependence does not mean that you cannot switch from an existing technology: it simply says that the costs of doing so are high. When you first build your road infrastructure, for example, you can choose to drive on the left or the right at equal cost. But once that choice has been made, switching it becomes increasingly expensive. That's path dependence, and no, it hasn't been debunked.

    That isn't the only problem with the article. There is a whole field of research (particularly Social Construction of Technology theory, or SCOT) around how technologies are chosen and shaped by the choices people make. There is no best or optimal technology. There are only technologies that are better for particular uses or particular groups. A given technology makes some things harder, and other things easier (these are called affordances). You give VHS versus Beta as an example. Beta quality was higher, but VHS length was longer. Which is better? It depends on who you ask. The technology is shaped by the people and interests who use it and influence its development. If early adopters see the technology a certain way, that is likely to shape the technology. Later, more people will use the technology, but in the form set by those who shaped it earlier. The article you point to does not mention any of this broader field of research, or admit that the process is any more complex than its simplified description.

    Now, whether path dependence applies to the AK-47 I don't know. I would think the effects would be much smaller than for a video or keyboard standard. If path dependence does play a role, I would expect it to be amplified by the lack of patent protection. This is how giving something away can be used to set a standard, benefiting the giver. I find it really strange that you are arguing against path dependence when in fact it is a major argument in favor of more open regimes for patents and copyrights.

    As to Dvorak, I learned it on a bet several years after learning QWERTY in higschool. I found it was faster (though only barely), more accurate, and definitely easier on the fingers. Previously typing could tire my hands; this no longer happens (except when I switch back to QWERTY, which I do have to do sometimes when away from my own machine). A friend of mine laughed at Dvorak until he got repetitive stress problems; he switched and hasn't looked back. Of course this is anecdotal. I am not aware of any study that resolves the issue. But that article sure doesn't.