NYTimes Draws Connection Between Beastie Boys Lawsuit & Patent Trolls, Realizes IP Hinders Innovation

from the about-time dept

Following the unfortunately-timed sampling lawsuit against the Beastie Boys, I expressed hope that the high-publicity situation would call more attention to serious issues in copyright law as it pertains to sampling and other forms of art that directly build on what came before—though I haven’t exactly been holding my breath. To my surprise, though, it seems like the story has had an even more profound effect over at the New York Times: a recent piece uses the Beastie Boys lawsuit as a starting point to talk about oppressive copyright laws, tech patent trolls, and the fact that more intellectual property does not automatically mean more innovation.

Most of the article won’t be anything new to Techdirt readers, but it’s great to see these essential topics getting more attention in mainstream news sources—especially coming from a journalist who has previously espoused the RIAA/MPAA’s bogus piracy stats:

Patents on inventions, like copyrights on songs, are not granted to be fair to their creators. Their purpose is to encourage innovation, a broad social good, by granting creators a limited monopoly to profit from their creations. While companies like Apple may believe they are insufficiently compensated for their inventions, the evidence often suggests otherwise. The belief that stronger intellectual property protection inevitably leads to more innovation appears to be broadly wrong.

Like “Paul’s Boutique,” the software that drives smartphones is composed of a vast array of ideas from multiple sources. Everybody infringes to some extent on everybody else. Overly strong intellectual property laws that stop creators from using earlier innovations could slow creation over all and become a barrier for new technologies to reach the market.

There are a few oddities to the piece—it’s not always clear on the distinction between copyright and patents, and it also makes the assertion that “software patents will never be banned, of course”—despite the very real possibility that software patents will be massively restricted in the future. But what’s really great to see is the understanding from NYTimes that these issues are connected: an anti-competitive attitude and the “ownership mentality” are endemic to intellectual property as a whole, not just the specifics of certain areas of law, and the problem really does need to be addressed at that basic level, starting with the incorrect assumption that more IP equals more innovation. Now if only lawmakers would start listening.

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Companies: apple, tuf america

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Comments on “NYTimes Draws Connection Between Beastie Boys Lawsuit & Patent Trolls, Realizes IP Hinders Innovation”

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Josh King (profile) says:

Fair Use

Here’s an idea, at least on the copyright front, to get away from “fairness” and back to what copyright is supposed to be about: Modify section 107 so the fair use defense explicitly turns on prong 4 (impact on market value). If a plaintiff can’t show a material impact on market value, it’s fair use. Period. The other 3 prongs (amount copied, etc.) only come into play if an impact on the market for the original work is established. This would completely eliminate copyfraud and sampling cases.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Fair Use

It’s a very reasonable idea except that if you twist the data enough it will scream what you want even though it does not reflect the truth. Just think about the usual assumption MAFIAA makes that 1 download = 1 lost sale. We have seen what aberration it produces and yet it’s barely ever challenged by whoever. If you are gonna make it impact dependent then you have to establish how you will do the math and this requires some broad and potentially expensive study. Here at TD and me as a regular reader at TorrentFreak too (despite the fact disqus is blocked so I won’t be commenting there that much) I’ve seen enough to at least infer that there is a correlation between how successful a movie is and how much it is downloaded (illegally). Availability also seems to have an impact. So it’s not that simple [to prove an impact on the market].

Josh King (profile) says:

Re: Re: Fair Use

It’s simpler than that, because fair use is never a defense to out-and-out piracy. This formulation would simply make fair use stronger in all of those cases where the permission/ownership culture seeks to limit uses that have no bearing whatsoever on the market for the original work.

Sampling is the most obvious example, but you needn’t look far for others.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Fair Use

I see where you are going and I disagree. As an avid file sharer I can tell they never lost any money with me (at least till the point I got so disgusted with their behavior concerning file sharing I decided to avoid buying as much as possible directing my money towards indie, live shows and so on). I see file sharing as a great opportunity to discover stuff and as some nice DVR. I pay for HBO but I can’t be there when Game of Thrones airs so I download it to watch afterwards. I see no difference between this and recording it.

For me what most call piracy is fair use. For me piracy is selling DVDs with the content on the streets, flea markets and whatever. And I strongly discourage ppl from buying that type of goods. The issue is, everybody calls file sharing piracy when it is clearly not. The problem with your way of addressing the issue of fair use is precisely this, they will keep yelling that 1 download equals 1 lost sale and this is a BLATANT lie.

It is simple if you talk about samples and mash ups. But let’s take parody as an example. A studio exec may think a parody harms the image of a movie thus depriving them of further revenue. How do you measure that? And in fact it may be true for some cases in my opinion. Can you see the problem it createS? And again the burden of deciding goes to a judge that often will have no clue on how to evaluate it.

Anonymous Coward says:

so, have you heard when he will be losing his job then? cant be long. how dare he suggest that ‘Overly strong intellectual property laws that stop creators from using earlier innovations could slow creation over all and become a barrier for new technologies to reach the market’. and as for ‘Everybody infringes to some extent on everybody else.’ my God! he will be burnt at the stake for suggesting such things!

wolftrouble (profile) says:

It does, kind of.

It should be repeated that crazy IP laws and aggressive enforcement, while often hindering innovation, also serves to funnel innovation through companies (where they can monetize them). Even in areas where it doesn’t outright hinder the development of new technology it makes sure it happens in an environment where it can be controlled and profited from.

As it turns out this results in a massive net decrease in human innovation overall. But it protects not just the revenue companies generate for currently-available technology (that’s heavily IP-encumbered), it also makes it staggeringly difficult to innovate outside of those environments.

Where this is really hurting us is interoperability (which is, in part, how this protects corporate profits). Companies in general have little interest in making their products work together, and the greatest and most widespread interopability successes have occurred when they were forced (kicking and screaming) by innovation happening outside of their walls that results in technology consumers want.

Phrased more simply, if MP3s hadn’t existed and been widely available royalty-free (or royalty-reasonable) before solid state portable music devices we would today have our music in whatever formats Sony, Microsoft, Apple, Creative, etc. woud have developed and protected with copyrights and patents – and none of it would have worked on each other’s hardware.

TDR says:

Maybe we should just have Senator Wyden slip the following phrase into an unrelated bill when nobody’s looking:

“All copyright law is hereby repealed, and all existing copyrights are null and void effective immediately. All formerly copyrighted content is hereby placed within the public domain for all time. Any attempt to reinstate copyrights is punishable by fines of up to $30,000,000,000 and immediate dissolution of any corporate entity involved. In addition, mandatory courses on current technology and its applications will be enforced for all individuals holding public office and legal positions. Not taking the required courses will result in fines of up to $10,000,000 and immediate expulsion from office.”

Hey, if it’s good enough for the RIAA…

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