Disillusioned commentary on Australian financial sector, politics, business, media... with attention occasionally distracted to the world outside... and intermittent reminder that rage is a more life-conserving irrationality than despair.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Forces continue to gather in the coming IP stoush

John Quiggin has an excellent op-ed piece in The Fin today, on "Innovation and the internet", pointing out that:

The US-Australia Free Trade Agreement, which came into force on New Year’s Day contained numerous provisions designed to strengthen ‘intellectual property’, that is, government-created monopolies designed to reward invention and the creation of literary and other cultural works. Among other things, the term of copyright was extended from 50 to 70 years and new protections were granted to pharmaceutical companies.

A rather more obscure event a couple of weeks later was part of a trend that seems likely to render the whole ‘strong IP’ agenda both obsolete and irrelevant. At a conference at Queensland University of Technology the Australian version of the Creative Commons license was launched. The Creative Commons license is a new kind of copyright, allowing free reproduction while reserving a flexible range of rights over attribution, commercial use and derivative works...


The rise of creative collaboration as a major engine of technological progress poses serious challenges for traditional models of innovation, based on proprietary research and development and targeted government funding for ‘strategic’ pure research. Increasingly, innovation will come from the members of networks driven largely by creative or social, rather than economic, concerns. Governments and capital markets should either support this process or get out of the way.

In the opposing camp:

About the only thing Hollywood hasn't thrown into the fray as it desperately tries to get the US Supreme Court to overturn a decision already agreed by two other courts, is the kitchen sink.
Oral arguments in the MGM v Grokster will be heard on March 29 when Hollywood will again try to use its financial and political might to browbeat America’s top court into ruling p2p companies can be held responsible if customers use their p2p software to infringe copyrights...


The Supreme Court's landmark decision in Sony Corporation of America v Universal City Studios (the Sony Betamax ruling) ruled a distributor can’t held liable for users' infringement as long as the ‘tool’ is capable of substantial noninfringing uses.

“In MGM v. Grokster, the Ninth Circuit found that P2P file-sharing software is capable of, and is in fact being used for, noninfringing uses,” says the EFF. “Relying on the Betamax precedent, the court ruled that the distributors of Grokster and Morpheus software cannot be held liable for users' copyright violations. The plaintiffs appealed, and in December 2004 the Supreme Court granted certiorari.”

Visit the EFF’s MGM v Grokster site for chapter and verse.

IBM conditionally became a White Hat when it clasped Linux to its corporate bosom, as though it were the long lost son of S/360 OS, and started slaughtering fatted calves to feed Linux developers. Three days ago, IBM released a bunch of patents relating to Open Source:

Bob Sutor's comments on IBM's release of Patents to Open Source -- Bob is the VP of IBM Standards. He says: "To be clear, this is not a "donation," but rather a pledge of the patents to seed and then maintain a patent commons for open source projects." Go here to see his other comments and his extensive list of links to articles on the subject from all the major developer and business publications. There is also a link to the Patent Description Document, which provides the nitty-gritty of the patent release.

And, Sun, not to be outgamed, is now allowing (more limited) open access to 1,600 of its patents.

If the push for an intellectual property Commons is to succeed, it needs well resourced companies like IBM and Sun to counter the political muscle of Big Media.

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