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You Can’t Own An Idea

 
LadyJane
 
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LadyJane
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06 September 2018 16:27
 

Anything created before 1923 falls under the category of public domain.  The duration of American Copyright laws has since been extended several times over the years and in 1989 they determined that they would last: a lifetime plus seventy years.  A lifetime…plus seventy years.  That means…all the works of art and literature and science created in the tens of thousands of years of human history don’t qualify for royalties…but Disney does.  Not Beethoven or Van Gogh or Darwin…but Beavis and Butt-head, or at least Mike Judge, most certainly does.  We are all beneficiaries of everything that came before and taking credit for a tiny piece of whatever we think we’re entitled to is presumptuous and delusional and the epitome of greed. 

When imagining all of human knowledge as a principia universalis it makes perfect sense. 

You can’t own an idea.

 
 
EN
 
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EN
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06 September 2018 17:08
 

You can if the law says you can. Whether it’s a good idea or not is debatable.  Some Native Americans said you couldn’t own land.  They were overruled. The benefit of owning an idea is that it encourages innovation. Would the USA have been such a hotbed of innovation without the concept of patent ownership and royalties?  It’s just a matter of positive law - if a society decides an idea can be owned it can accomplish that through a statute.  Again, whether this has been good is up for debate, but does not offend me that some get the benefit of their inventions.

For the first 2 1/2 years of my legal career I was a law clerk for a senior judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.  We heard, among other things, appeals involving patents and trademarks.  It’s not that easy to get a patent and even harder to defend it if it is challenged.  I’m not opposed to people getting to enjoy the fruits of their labors. I think innovation would suffer if there were no protections.  But I’m willing to listen to opposing arguments, and am not heavily invested in my position.

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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06 September 2018 21:40
 

This is part of why art and music and poetry and other forms of expression need to have elements of dissonance and disobedience. This is why I honor protest and rebellion even when I disagree on particulars. Authority will try to control and possess everything. Even air and water. Even ideas. A certain amount of vigorous resistance must be maintained.

 
Jb8989
 
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Jb8989
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07 September 2018 04:50
 
LadyJane - 06 September 2018 04:27 PM

 

You can’t own an idea.

Maybe brush up on you IP law, because that’s just not accurate. Unless you mean philosophically, in which case I’d still suggest you take a look at how secrets, inventions and different mediums have historically been poached. Now reverse engineering, that’s a different story.

 
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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07 September 2018 05:32
 

We are all beneficiaries of everything that came before and taking credit for a tiny piece of whatever we think we’re entitled to is presumptuous and delusional and the epitome of greed

That we are beneficiaries of what came before is in no way inconsistent with taking credit for producing something new, since everything those benefactors produced was at one point new, and they get credit for inventing it even by us beneficiaries.  For instance, we call them Cartesian coordinates for a reason.  Was Descartes presumptuous, delusional and greedy for thinking he framed a new approach to geometry via the newly developing algebra?  Were Leibniz and Newton delusional and greedy for thinking they invented the calculus, even though both were clearly beneficiaries of previous mathematical work, including Descartes?  You either have a stupid notion of invention or a delusional understanding of benefits to think that taking credit for original work is presumptuous, delusional and greedy simply because it wasn’t done in a vacuum; that in both prospect and retrospect it has anticipatory precedence in prior work.  By that logic, we owe our parents everything for teaching us to speak, and they get as much credit or blame for our ideas and decisions as we do.  That’s hardly a sensible or defensible idea.

You can’t own an idea

Patent and copyright law says that within circumscribed limits, you can, and when done right, both systems work just fine.  Proof might be the extraordinary progress of knowledge and invention since their inception—or at the very least, the lack of evidence that progress has been retarded, except when the systems malfunction.  Unless you have an alternative history under an alternative system of laws, maybe you should reconsider the bad platitudes.

 

[ Edited: 07 September 2018 05:42 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
LadyJane
 
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07 September 2018 06:03
 

Recognition for the work and reaping the benefits of the work is not the bone of contention.  The bone of contention is reaping the benefits of our work for lifetime…plus seventy years.  In Canada, it’s a lifetime…plus fifty years.  This seems gratuitous.  What little gems have been produced in the last thirty years that deserve such extraordinary financial compensation?

 
 
EN
 
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07 September 2018 06:54
 

I don’t have a problem with cutting off the 70 years and making it just for the lifetime of the inventor, or a few years after his/her death. That’s just a policy decision, and I can see the justification for that change.  It similar to deciding where the line is drawn for inheritance taxes. It’s just a matter of compromise amongst the line drawers.

 
GAD
 
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07 September 2018 07:06
 

It really comes down to other people making money off your idea, and no one want to see other people making money off what they created while they get nothing. Done!

 
 
LadyJane
 
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07 September 2018 08:38
 

Copyright protection is available for: 1) an original work of authorship, 2) fixed in a tangible medium, 3) that has a minimal amount of creativity.  If a work doesn’t have all three of these components then it is not copyrightable subject matter.

If an idea is both original and creative it meets the first and third requirements.  Until it finds its way to a tangible medium it remains an idea in someone’s head.  In order to be copyrightable the work must have physical representation.

Ideas are not copyrightable.  Only the execution or expression of those ideas.

 
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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07 September 2018 08:58
 
LadyJane - 07 September 2018 06:03 AM

Recognition for the work and reaping the benefits of the work is not the bone of contention.  The bone of contention is reaping the benefits of our work for lifetime…plus seventy years.  In Canada, it’s a lifetime…plus fifty years.  This seems gratuitous.  What little gems have been produced in the last thirty years that deserve such extraordinary financial compensation?

So the original post specifically says “taking credit” but now the real bone of contention is monetary benefits.  Ok, since it was also about copyright law, that was at least latent there too… 

What is this “extraordinary financial compensation”?  One may have the monetary rights to a copyright for a lifetime and hardly make a dime.  One may pass this right to one’s children just as one can pass along other aspects of one’s estate and they still may hardly make a dime.  Or both parties may get rich, or anything in between.  The issue here isn’t extraordinary financial compensation; it’s ownership rights, and copyright law in both the US and Canada says that ownership rights for creative work—no matter how insignificant in the eyes of the cultural snobs—persists for the creator’s lifetime, as well as for the “lifetime” of his or her children.  Viewed in terms of real property, this rule for intellectual property hardly seems controversial, or even silly.  Why not pass along the rights to a novel along with my house, 401K surplus, or my favorite chair?  What harm does it do anyone that a creator and his heirs so benefit?  At least unlike wealth and real property these rights eventually expire, suggesting that within the law there is recognition that this creative work is in some sense already and in any case should eventually become the possession of all, emerging as it does from a cultural nexus we all inherit.  The same can’t be said for other accruals, despite the fact that they too ultimately depend on public goods.  In light of this, I can’t even see what you’re fussing about.  Why not grant copyrights for a lifetime and the life of one’s heirs?  Why should the products of intellectual work be so much less “owned” than the products of manual work that they expire while one is still alive, or while one’s children are?  What, are you suggesting pro-rating the duration of copyright for [sic] cultural greatness?  Is this why the lack of copyright for Beethoven is juxtaposed to Beavis and Butthead?  Is this why the somewhat pejorative “little gems” come up for something worth such a lengthy copyright within the last 30 years?

[ Edited: 07 September 2018 09:07 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
EN
 
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07 September 2018 09:10
 
LadyJane - 07 September 2018 08:38 AM

Copyright protection is available for: 1) an original work of authorship, 2) fixed in a tangible medium, 3) that has a minimal amount of creativity.  If a work doesn’t have all three of these components then it is not copyrightable subject matter.

If an idea is both original and creative it meets the first and third requirements.  Until it finds its way to a tangible medium it remains an idea in someone’s head.  In order to be copyrightable the work must have physical representation.

Ideas are not copyrightable.  Only the execution or expression of those ideas.

OK, I see what you are talking about. But so what?  If the question is only how long should an inventor/writer be allowed to get royalties from patents/copyrights, why lead with the philosophical argument about ideas not being owned?  Just argue that the protections of the law should be shortened.

 
Jb8989
 
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07 September 2018 09:58
 
LadyJane - 07 September 2018 08:38 AM

Copyright protection is available for: 1) an original work of authorship, 2) fixed in a tangible medium, 3) that has a minimal amount of creativity.  If a work doesn’t have all three of these components then it is not copyrightable subject matter.

If an idea is both original and creative it meets the first and third requirements.  Until it finds its way to a tangible medium it remains an idea in someone’s head.  In order to be copyrightable the work must have physical representation.

Ideas are not copyrightable.  Only the execution or expression of those ideas.

You went from you can’t own an idea to ideas aren’t copyrightable. Big distinction. The area in between is about secrets, ideas, designs, inventions and the likes that are varying degrees of copyrightable, patentable, trademarked, secreted, or just privledged, all under the law. Ideas are the backbone to some types of progression and are owned all the time - at least in the sense of public domain, proceeds, royalties and sharing laws. What’s cooler than what you’re talking about is the doctrine of novelty and nonobviousness with respect to IP law. Or where a functional piece of art transcends aesthetics into the land of protectable utility. Ideas galore, homey.

 
 
LadyJane
 
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07 September 2018 09:59
 

Patents and Copyright are separate things.

If you buy a cookbook that has a copyright you can follow a recipe without violating any law.  If that recipe has a patent you need permission to prepare that meal.  That’s my understanding, anyway.  And I’m not looking to change (or fuss) about anything.  Just making conversation. 

In 1790 copyright lasted 14 years with a possible extension of an additional 14 years, at which time it entered the public domain.  There were a few changes in the interim until 1909 when it went to 28 years with a possible extension of an additional 28 years.  In 1976 they distinguished between individual and corporate ownership of copyright.  Where individual lasted a lifetime…plus fifty years and corporations were allotted 75 year durations.  In 1998 individual copyright was extended to a lifetime…plus seventy years and corporations were extended to a cool 95 years. 

When Disney received a copyright for Steamboat Willie in 1928 the duration was 56 years (28 plus 28) which lasted until 1984 at which time it would’ve entered the public domain.  Instead, as a result of the 1976 extension, the copyright duration was extended to 2003.  Mickey Mouse (formerly known as Steamboat Willie) was able to kick the can down the road, coasting through the impending expiry date afforded by the 1998 copyright extension.  It is now set to expire in 2023 and will in all likelihood be preceded by another extension once again.

I think James Boyle has a point.

“We are the first generation to deny our own culture to ourselves.  No work created during your lifetime will, without conscious action by its creator, become available for you to build upon.”

 
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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07 September 2018 11:29
 

James Boyle’s point strikes me as pure nonsense.  With the success of Toy Story, Pixar spawned a new genre of digital animation (feature films), despite the copyright laws in effect for its movies.  In this respect, it’s just nonsense to say that “no work created during your lifetime will, without conscious action by its creator, become available for you to build upon.”  No one needed to pimp off the specific ideas in Toy Story in order to build on its idea and create other digitally animated feature films, just like no one needed to pimp off Mickey Mouse’s likeness to offer alternative animations built around a specific character, once animations gained in popularity due to the mouse.  Or take the impact of Tolkien’s work on the fantasy genre, despite the persistence of its copyrights today.  It virtually created the field.  Similar examples of “building upon” by opening a genre for future creative work are all over the place. 

For my part, my own book on Heidegger builds on the work of a previous Heidegger scholar, and it does so candidly and with perfect legality, despite the original author’s copyright.  As long as I cite him and credit him for his work in my own and not try to pass his work off as mine, then I am “building upon it” as I develop my own ideas.  As I say in the preface, my own insight into Heidegger’s shortcomings wouldn’t have come about absent his exemplary clarification of a point Heidegger way trying to make.  If a scholar wouldn’t be pleased by that kind of building upon his own work, what would please him?

This “building upon” is even more clear in the creation and dissemination of scientific ideas, or non-patent knowledge in general.
 
Besides these pioneering effects and fair uses, what other sense of “build upon” do we need?  Creative Common licenses may be nice alternatives for asserting “ownership” of creative work absent any profit motive, but It’s not like all of culture needs to become like Wikipedia to thrive.

[ Edited: 07 September 2018 11:38 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
LadyJane
 
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07 September 2018 13:29
 

The notions of Fair Use and Fair Dealing are well established standards and dealt with on a case by case basis.  There are exceptions for news reporting, satire, parody, education, criticism and research.  Is it ideal?  Is it the best use of our talent?  That is up to the individual, I suppose.  Anyone who thinks the copyright standards of today encourage artistic creativity will likely assume the next few years will produce scads of artists, as these are due to expand again.  You might observe the hangers on and the hangers on of the hangers on a bit differently, as derivative and a hindrance to creativity.  And that is the point at which we’ll have to agree to disagree.  Or else everyone is left standing on coattails staring at empty hangers.

 
 
hannahtoo
 
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07 September 2018 15:41
 

LJ, could you provide some more specific cases which you think are unfair holdings of information?  (I’m thinking there may have been something specific that triggered your OP.)  The cartoon examples don’t seem that important.  Who cares if Snow White is in the public domain?  You can check out the DVD for free from the library, or trade DVD’s with neighbors, etc.  Most media are so easily transferable these days that artists have trouble making a living.

More important could be medications, as generics are usually much cheaper than original name brands.  And I have heard accusations that traditional car companies and oil industries tried to squelched development of electric car technologies.

 
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