I’ve been watching the University of Maryland University College’s 7th Annual IP conference via webcast. Highlights: the NBC/Universal representative’s characterization of semiotic democracy as “idiotic democracy,” paired with Ann Bartow’s pointed question: what are the semiotics of a photoshopped version of a Flickr photo showing a woman with a noose around her neck?
There was also the scholarly publishers’ representative on the open access panel whose talking points went something like this: government open access repositories of articles published by private publishers are (or at least invite) censorship. But government funding of research that results in a large supply of articles for private publication is great. Also, if you paid us, we’d be happy to participate in those censorious repositories! My evaluation: the PR pit bull the publishers hired to deal with open access has yet to refine the message enough.
And there was Susan Anthony, the USPTO representative. Based on her experience as a copyright owner – she wrote an article on an otherwise unexplored aspect of marital history – she was convinced that it is not fair use to make a photocopy of her article at a library for personal reading, because making a photocopy takes away all her hard work and makes it disappear. This is close enough to an exact quote to make me despair. (She also wanted to lay claim to the facts she’d uncovered through archival work. She did all the work, so she should be able to control the use of her article. And she said that she was glad to be a copyright attorney, because that was the only way she could understand her rights as an author. She apparently saw no irony of any kind in this statement.)
The guy from the Copyright Office, who talked about other countries’ private copying levies, announced his faith in the market to solve issues of access and freedom to incorporate existing works into “user-generated content.” I don’t dispute his point that administrative fee-setting has huge problems, but it’s kind of funny for a guy from the Copyright Office to talk about the “free market” as if private property rights in copyrighted works existed in any relevant sense without a background law defining the scope of those rights. I could just as easily say: the free market has decided that copyright owners should not control “user-generated” derivative works. And that would be nonsense too, since it’s the legislature and not the free market that decides what copyright covers.
Obviously, my summary has focused on the outrageous stuff said by the high-protectionist side. From my perspective, the low-protectionists were pretty conciliatory.