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Posted on Techdirt - 2 June 2012 @ 12:00pm

Liz's Favorite Techdirt Posts Of The Week

Hello, Techdirt readers!

Fellow Kool-aid drinking Internet Pirate here. Name’s Elizabeth and I like to consider myself an artist of sorts. Now I’m not sure what originally brought me to Techdirt. Probably when I was looking into self publication for a friend and discovered some related articles. But the information and arguments from both sides of the copyright discussion kept me around. Plus the trolls can be rather amusing. Previously I was a little peeved that other people would take something I posted online and do whatever they wished. Even though I was using freely available services like deviantArt and SoundCloud to showcase my own compositions. I felt a loss of control over something I created. But after a lot of reading I saw how “piracy” could be turned into a mutually beneficial opportunity for everyone involved. This especially came true when some enterprising individual took an image I created and had it printed on a light-switch cover of all things. At first I felt a bit violated. Here’s someone who thought they could profit from something I did! On top of that, my name was removed from the original image. But then I thought about others who turned this sort of thing around for their benefit. Here was a person who had access to physical merchandise that thought something I created was good enough to sell. So I contacted the seller on eBay and sought a mutually beneficial deal. Combining my artistic expression and his physical goods so that the two of us could make some money.

Sadly the deal didn’t pan out. What he wanted to sell wasn’t quite what I wanted to create. But the gentleman was kind enough to send me a unique light switch cover and we parted on amiable terms.

This brings me to my first pick of the week. Glyn Moody asked us Which is Worse — Sharing With Attribution, Or Plagiarism Without? Here we have a story about a few politicians in Germany who copied someone else’s work and passed it off as their own. The linked articles show that Silvana Koch-Mehrin had her academic title taken away by Heidelberg University, and Jorgo Chatzimarkakis’ doctorate degree was revoked by the University of Bonn as recent examples. This in a time when we see top European political members in negotiations for stricter intellectual property laws. A potential link to double standards between what the government can do and what the people are forbidden to. Not unlike the case of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy infringing copyright more than once while pressing strongly for stricter penalties for people accused of doing the same thing. Now personally, I believe that plagiarism is absolutely terrible. You risk your own reputation if discovered (highly likely in the Information Age), while robbing the original composer of their own efforts. To paraphrase an ancient saying, we’re all dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants. We each take inspiration, references, and information from others and build upon it to create something new. We see this in the creative process from areas of scientific research all the way to mixing audio samples into music. However to claim ownership without acknowledging it’s source is what I’d call intellectual theft.

Mike Masnick’s article Author Tells DOJ The Authors Guild Doesn’t Speak For Him is another shining example of how middlemen agencies claim that they represent the interests of creators who fall under their purview. This time it’s the subject of the Author’s Guild and the Association of Authors’ Representatives as described by self-publishing author Joe Konrath in a letter to John R. Read of the Department of Justice. More often than not, we see numerous power-grabs by these sorts of agencies in order to make more money on the efforts of those who truly work for a living. While this is nothing new — we see it from the tradesmen of antiquity, to the Italian Renaissance artists like Masaccio and da Vinci, and up through history to modern artists and musicians — the technology of today is increasingly making these kinds of middlemen agencies more and more irrelevant. As Mr. Konrath states, “…these organizations did not solicit the views of their members, that they in no way speak on behalf of all or even most of their members, and that (as I imagine is obvious) they are motivated not by what’s best for consumers, but by what they see as best for themselves.” While many guild associations in the past have used their clout to keep new blood out of the marketplace unless they get a cut (via membership fees in most cases), most of them did have an apprenticeship program to train people in their applied trades. I’m currently unaware of any programme via the Author’s Guild to teach others to become better writers and publishers. However the services they do offer could be beneficial to some members within the guild if it fits their individual business plans. Yet those same services can also be obtained from other sources.

The story of Steve Cooksey reminds me a bit of the story of Patch Adams. After suffering a life-changing event in their lives, and motivating themselves to change for the better, both men set about using their knowledge and skills to help other people. While Dr. Adams went on to found the Gesundheit Institute where doctors and ordinary people come to help and serve each other, Steve Cooksey set up a blog online to offer advice to any who would listen. At first he chronicled his change in lifestyle and advancement toward better health under a specific dietary programme and exercise regime. But the blog evolved as his readership grew. While the State of North Carolina took issue with this, Cooksey and the Institute for Justice are fighting back against North Carolina regulatory law claiming this is a 1st Amendment matter rather than the work of a professional dietitian. I tend to agree with a number of commenters that the issue at hand might not be the advice column he set up, but the private consultations he offers for a fee. Just as Dr. Adams faced opposition to the Gesundheit Institute when he operated a practice while still a medical student — in effect, operating a clinic without a medical license. Adams graduated with high honors and became a recognized doctor and was able to move on with his own personal dream. Perhaps Steve Cooksey may need to do something similar to further use his talents to help others. Keep writing that blog, Steve! But if you want to go pro, sometimes you have to jump through a few hoops.

This next article is basically a story of the little guy standing up to a bully. We read that a New Zealand Judge Won’t Rubberstamp Kim Dotcom Extradition without concrete evidence for their case. As we’ve been shown before in this case, the US DOJ has made a number of gaffes. Like the missing videotape of the mansion raid, as well as the previous Procedural Error By Law Enforcement in issuing a restraining order against Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom. Now that the Department of Justice has found strong resistance from a foreign court system, I’m wondering how often this sort of legal trickery has worked in the past in other countries much less than within the United States. As the story unfolds, I can’t help but see this unraveling over the course of a few years. Were I to don a tin-foil hat, I would think that this action wasn’t about convicting Kim Dotcom on conspiracy charges, but intended as a show of force against “internet pirates,” abusing the legal system to financially break a public figure. The chilling effects were readily apparent as other internet locker services quickly changed their usage policies as soon as the news hit. While some countries rush through laws in appeasement due to U.S. influence, it’s good to see that others will take a stand and make sure justice and due process prevail. At least for the moment.

Moving right along with some more copyright law nonsense, (Is there any other kind?) we have the the tentacle monster that is the Entertainment Industry. With so many agencies under a single entity, there’s no wonder that many in the legal departments are unaware of what those in the advertising departments are doing to promote their goods. Thus we end up with DMCA Notices So Stupid It Hurts. I wonder how often people who are “just doing their job” end up doing their employers more harm than good. Hopefully it isn’t too late to teach people, young and old, some valuable critical thinking skills. I don’t really have much more to say on this story since it pretty much speaks for itself. Plus I just wanted to say “tentacle monster,” at least once.

Speaking of problems with IP laws in their current state, it’s nice to see that even those in mainstream media are starting to recognize that there are issues which need to be addressed. As an article written by Eduardo Porter of the NYTimes Draws Connection Between Beastie Boys Lawsuit & Patent Trolls. One major problem with patent trolls is that they abuse the system in order to shake down successful companies for a cut of their profits. This can have a ripple effect on the rest of society. Companies have to raise their prices on goods and services to cover legal costs. Or they need to find a way to cut costs in other areas. The quality of manufactured goods, employee benefits or a company’s overall workforce may be slashed. Plus the lack of innovation causes stagnation in development and in the marketplace. In the past some measures had been passed, like the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, which forbade corporations from using monopolistic powers for anticompetitive practices. Perhaps the time is past due for our lawmakers to severely curb the practice of patent litigation as well.

However, the issues of IP limiting innovation, and other factors which effect society, is not a new concept. Letters between Thomas Jefferson and James Madison show that Jefferson was so concerned about monopolies (including patents) that he wanted to add protections against them in the Bill of Rights. In a letter to James Madison Dec. 20, 1787:

“I do not like…the omission of a bill of rights providing clearly and without the aid of sophisms for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection against standing armies, restriction against monopolies, the eternal and unremitting force of the habeas corpus laws, and trials by jury in all matters of fact triable by the laws of the land.”
Source: Library of Congress – Establishing a Federal Republic

I think I’ll wrap this post up with something positive. The article Latest Humble Bundle Of Pay-What-You-Want Indie Games Raises $1-Million In Five Hours is fantastic news! Not only for supporting independent game developers and creators, but buying a bundle of these amusing games is also a good way to support Child’s Play. This is the charity organization started by Penny Arcade creators Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik which helps alleviate the pain and boredom of children who are recieving treatment and recovery while hospital bound. A portion of the fund can also go directly to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. As far as where the money goes, you have the option to decide which amount goes where in the split. They make the games, you decide who gets paid.

Now here’s something good that’s being done, “For the Children.”

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