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.