Law: Kal Raustiala on intellectual property

Kal Raustiala is a law professor at the University of California in Los Angeles, and talked in a recent video interview about piracy, intellectual property and the “fashion paradox” for the website Big Think. The term “fashion paradox” was coined to describe how the fashion industry has very little protection for intellectual property — new designs are copied almost the instant they hit the runway — and yet there is no shortage of creativity, or money, in that business (supporters of strong IP protection laws usually argue that without them, many artists would no longer create).

Raustiala also talks about how industries often assume that technology such as the VCR will decimate their business, only to find out that they can actually make far more money with such technologies than they did before. The video is definitely worth a watch if you have some time. The site that it comes from, Big Think, is a kind of intellectual version of YouTube, featuring one-on-one interviews with leading thinkers and authors. Co-founder Victoria Brown — a Canadian — started the site earlier with support from Lawrence Summers, the former president of Harvard University, and Facebook backer Peter Thiel.

(hat tip to Hypebot for the link)

Google: Start up those book scanners!

I just got an email from Google PR, saying the company has settled its long-running legal battle with publishers and authors over its ambitious book-scanning project, a settlement that was rumoured to be in the works for the past month or so. The project has been under a cloud since 2005, when the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild filed two class-action lawsuits alleging that scanning books without permission amounted to large-scale copyright infringement. The Web company said it would remove books from its index on request, but authors and publishers said this reverse-onus approach was unfair.

As part of the settlement, Google is paying $125-million to settle the legal claims, pay legal costs for the two groups, and — more importantly — will set up a new entity called the Book Rights Registry, which will be responsible for distributing payments that come from online access to books provided through Google (and through any similar programs created by other providers). The registry will also be responsible for locating rightsholders for old and out-of-print books, collecting and maintaining accurate info, and for providing a way for rightsholders to “request inclusion in or exclusion from the project.” In effect, Google is setting up a body that does what ASCAP and similar groups do for musicians.

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RIP: A remix manifesto

Filmmaker Brett Gaylor has created what he calls an “open-source documentary” called RIP: A Remix Manifesto. It’s about the importance of mashups and the remix culture, and includes interviews with and footage of mashup DJ Gregg “Girl Talk” Gillis (and his parents, as far as I can tell from the clip), as well as Cory Doctorow, copyright expert Lawrence Lessig and Jammie Thomas, the mother who became a kind of sacrificial lamb in the record industry’s war on peer-to-peer downloading. In the spirit of the movie’s subject, the filmmaker has made some of his footage available for others to remix as they wish. The film premieres in Montreal this week. Hat tip to the CBC’s Jesse Brown for the link.

J.K. Rowling: Totally wrong on copyright

A U.S. Federal Court has ruled in the case of J.K. Rowling vs. the Harry Potter Lexicon, in which the Potter author sued to prevent a former librarian from publishing a compendium of facts about the novels. The book was based on the Lexicon website, which Steven Vander Ark has run for years — a fan site so comprehensive that Rowling herself has praised it in the past. The court decided on Monday that the Lexicon was not protected by the fair use clause in U.S. copyright law and would therefore be illegal if published. The judge, in my view, was completely wrong, and so was Ms. Rowling for bringing the suit.

I, of course, am not a lawyer. I don’t even play one on television. But I know a little bit about writing, and I know (or think I know) what copyright law was originally intended to do — which is to protect a creator’s rights to their creation, but also to balance those rights with the rights of society to create new works based on that original work. In my view, the judge’s decision gave the first part of that equation a vast amount of weight, while giving the second part virtually no weight at all. If anything, he should have done the exact opposite.

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Sad news for copyright: Patry quits blogging

William Patry, a giant in the field of copyright law and a welcome voice of sanity amid the frequent clashes between copyright and digital media, has decided to end his blog (although he has since said he is reinstating his archive after initially removing it). His first reason for doing so — that he has become frustrated by the fact that people conflate his views on copyright with those of his employer, Google, and that he is tired of dealing with “the crazies” — is easy to sympathize with. As a prominent voice of reason, he has no doubt been the subject of many attacks from both sides of the issue. But it’s his second reason that makes me (and so do some others) more than a little depressed. As he describes it:

Copyright law has abandoned its reason for being: to encourage learning and the creation of new works. Instead, its principal functions now are to preserve existing failed business models, to suppress new business models and technologies, and to obtain, if possible, enormous windfall profits from activity that not only causes no harm, but which is beneficial to copyright owners.

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