US Senator In Favor Of Exporting US Copyright Law… Without Understanding Copyright Law

from the that's-the-way-we-do-things-here-in-America dept

It’s no secret that the US has been trying to force other countries to adopt more stringent copyright laws as a part of “free trade” agreements. As we’ve pointed out, this is particularly ironic, given that these policies are usually the opposite of free trade. They’re really traditional protectionist policies to protect the business model of Big Copyright companies. That’s why it came as no surprise (and barely seemed worth mentioning) when the Bush Administration’s Trade Representative Susan Schwab announced plans to keep pushing draconian copyright laws on the rest of the world. However, reader Kevin writes in to make a good point. After Schwab spoke, Senate Finance Committee Senator Max Baucus talked about how important it was to support this export of our copyright laws: “Ideas are America’s true currency and if we want to be economically competitive, strong protections for U.S. intellectual property are key.” As Kevin explains, it appears Senator Baucus, so enthusiastic about exporting our copyright laws, doesn’t understand copyright law: “You cannot copyright ideas. Though the dichotomy between expression (qualifies for copyright) and ideas (not allowed copyright) is subtle, as a protector of the Constitution and exporter of American legal systems, I would hope Mr. Baucus would review it.” Though, honestly, does it really surprise anyone at this point that those pushing for stronger copyright protectionism don’t actually understand copyright?

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Comments on “US Senator In Favor Of Exporting US Copyright Law… Without Understanding Copyright Law”

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19 Comments
thepi (profile) says:

Perhaps he was using “ideas” abstractly as a broad cover for copyrights/patents. I mean, both of those are idea-based rather than physical-object-based; it isn’t that much of a stretch.

And somehow “Copyrighted expressions and patented concepts are America’s true currency…” doesn’t make for a very good politcal soundbite….we are talking about a politican here.

I don’t know enough about this guy to put it into context so maybe he thinks ideas can be copyrighted. The post just feels like a hit and run on a sematic mistake to me….

Debunked says:

Kevin Citation above

Mike you quote Kevin’s blog but he really construes the quote from Senator Baucus incorrectly.

Baucus quote:
“Ideas are America’s true currency and if we want to be economically competitive, strong protections for U.S. intellectual property are key.”

Kevin (and then you in an echo) mock the senator for saying that ideas are copyright-able but if you look at the construction of the above sentence construction it is a general statement praising ideas, then a specific particular statement that is set off by a comma that states very clearly that protections for “intellectual property” (i.e. copyrights or patents, trademarks) are key.

Looks like Kevin needs to brush up on his reading comprehension and when he mocks someone make sure it is for something that they actually said and not a made up inference.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Kevin Citation above

Kevin (and then you in an echo) mock the senator for saying that ideas are copyright-able but if you look at the construction of the above sentence construction it is a general statement praising ideas, then a specific particular statement that is set off by a comma that states very clearly that protections for “intellectual property” (i.e. copyrights or patents, trademarks) are key.

I don’t see how you can read that sentence and not interpret it to mean that strong intellectual property rights are needed to protect ideas. If they were really separate statements, as you imply, then why would he have said it at all? It’s not like he said: “The sky is blue, and strong protections for US IP are key.” The two statements are clearly related, as the Senator clearly believes that protecting “ideas” is what strong IP is about. He’s wrong — and if he’s out espousing pushing our copyright laws on other countries, it would help if he knew what he was talking about.

Jimbo says:

You should change the headline

It is sensationalistic and misleading. It is far from clear that the Senator doesn’t understand copyright law. He has a law degree from Stanford, and until better proof is available, you should give him the benefit of the doubt.

Also, you spell his last name two different ways in your post.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: You should change the headline

Also, you spell his last name two different ways in your post.

Fixed the typo.

It is sensationalistic and misleading. It is far from clear that the Senator doesn’t understand copyright law. He has a law degree from Stanford, and until better proof is available, you should give him the benefit of the doubt.

Again, I’d still like to know how it’s wrong. He is clearly stating a position that is incorrect about the purpose of copyright law. The fact that he has a law degree from Stanford doesn’t mean that when he says something that’s wrong, we should magically assume it’s correct.

These are important issues — and if the politicians pushing this don’t even understand the basic concepts behind what they’re pushing, isn’t it worth highlighting it?

It’s a sad state of affairs these days that people incorrectly believe that copyright is about protecting an idea. When the people doing so are elected officials who are trying to push this incorrect idea on other nations, it’s important to call it out.

Jimbo says:

Re: Re: You should change the headline

Your reading of his statement is strained. The ideas are related, but they are independent clauses. They could be completely different sentences.

“Ideas are America’s true currency.” “Strong protection for U.S. IP are key.” Perfectly reasonable.

You then change what he said to what you understood him to say:

“protecting ‘ideas’ is what strong IP is about.”

This statement is still unobjectionable to most people who assume that the senator takes the word ‘ideas’ to mean what it usually means.

You then insert your definition of ‘ideas’, the most narrow legal definition, something like “intellectual creations that cannot be protected by IP law”

Then you conclude that he is not only wrong, but that he doesn’t understand IP Law.

When you are interpreting a sentence, and one definition of a word eventually leads to a completely incorrect statement(intellectual creations that cannot be be protected by IP law should be protected by IP law), and the other leads to a completely reasonable, run of the mill statement (IP should be protected worldwide, you should give the person the benefit of the doubt before posting such a ridiculous headline.

Rob Bironas says:

legal definitions v. traditional definitions

The word idea means different things depending on the context. The word idea might not be the correct one to use in court, but for a public statement such as this, it gets his point across.

You are really stretching the meaning of what he is saying to reach the conclusion that he is wrong. Words have many definitions. You have decided that the definition that you chose made the speaker’s statement “wrong.” Maybe you chose the wrong definition.

Debunked says:

Comma rules

Mike quote:

“The two statements are clearly related, as the Senator clearly believes that protecting “ideas” is what strong IP is about.”

Ways to use commas from a Google search for “comma rules”-
“in general, a word, phrase, or clause that interrupts the basic thought of the sentence should be set off with a comma”

So to diagram the Senators statement the basic thought of the sentence is “strong protections for U.S. intellectual property are key.” The comma “interrupts” this thought with basically other information.

If you want to insist on seemingly knowing what the Senator “knows” then you or Kevin should ask him because you simply cannot infer it from the above sentence quote construction.

Anther use of a comma is to set off introductory elements which may or may not be directly related. From looking at the comma rules they all seem designed to avoid the kind of linkage that you and Kevin want to infer.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Is this guy insane!?

This senator wants to simply give away America’s hard-won intellectual property!? Those laws didn’t grow on trees, you know–somebody had to put in the effort to craft them. And now he just wants to let other countries copy them for free, just like that? Has he no business sense?

No, the US should license those laws. If other countries want to use the same laws, they should pay royalties to the USA. Perhaps in highly law-abiding countries, payment on a per-infringement basis would not be too onerous, whereas in places with larger populations of ne’er-do-wells, a flat rate would be more economical.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Is this guy insane!?

This senator wants to simply give away America’s hard-won intellectual property!? Those laws didn’t grow on trees, you know–somebody had to put in the effort to craft them. And now he just wants to let other countries copy them for free, just like that? Has he no business sense?

No, the US should license those laws. If other countries want to use the same laws, they should pay royalties to the USA. Perhaps in highly law-abiding countries, payment on a per-infringement basis would not be too onerous, whereas in places with larger populations of ne’er-do-wells, a flat rate would be more economical.

Lawrence, you win the award for best comment on the site this week! Made me laugh outloud.

Steve R. (profile) says:

Lets see, most everything we buy comes from China, Korea, and Japan. We are outsourcing much of our work to India. It doesn’t take much to realize that they would also be developing so-called intellectual property in the production of these goods. So, what happens to us if we “succeed” in getting them to adopt our insane copyright/patent laws and they want payback!

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What are patents? They are ideas. They are the IP that goes into innovation. Politicians screw up enough on their own without others twisting what they say to suit their purposes.

Patents are for processes and methods, not ideas… but I’ll grant you that it’s more accurate to claim that patents are for ideas. So you might have an argument if the Senator was talking about exporting our *patent* laws. But he’s not. He’s talking only about copyright laws. Perhaps he doesn’t realize there’s a difference, but that’s equally problematic for someone in his position.

Chris Brand (user link) says:

Competitive disadvantage

I think that key people in the USA realized a long time ago that the copyright and patent laws in the USA are a competitive disadvantage.

The USA was able to take over as the economic leader partly by ignoring European copyrights. Now China has taken over as the economic leader partly by – you guessed it – ignoring US copyrights and patents.

(It’s the same reason that you see huge software companies generally supporting software patents while the smaller players oppose them).

There are of course two ways to fix this :
1. revise US copyright and patent law to provide less protection (duration and/or scope) or
2. revise everyone else’s copyright and patent law to provide the same impediment as in the US.

Of course policy #1 would effectively devalue the “property” of some very influential companies.

The surprising thing is how successful they’ve been with policy #2.

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