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You Can’t Own An Idea

 
hannahtoo
 
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hannahtoo
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08 September 2018 06:29
 
LadyJane - 08 September 2018 05:30 AM

When you can’t sing ‘Happy Birthday’ it is an infringement on freedom of speech. 

The free speech argument has made its way through the American Legislative and Judiciary branches.  Time after time.  I am merely summarizing what the history has been as it approaches yet another point where a decision looms about extending copyright duration.

Feels like you’re picking a few obviously trivial examples, like Halloween costumes and birthday songs, rather than significant deficiencies of IP law.  I don’t think this helps your case.  Yes, there are some silly consequences of current laws.  But maybe these point to how the laws need to be adjusted.  They don’t prove that the whole concept of owning ideas is wrong.

Certainly, people have been making art, from intrinsic motivation, since the days of cave paintings.  But that doesn’t mean people should be allowed to copy other people’s ideas and sell them as their own.  The skill of an artist is not just playing an instrument or mixing colors, but having a unique take on translating an idea into tangible form.  Think of “The Scream” painting, which just recently entered into the public domain. It’s so much more than just paint on canvas. And a tribute band can learn to play like the original, but they should pay some sort of royalty for that privilege.

 
LadyJane
 
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LadyJane
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08 September 2018 06:52
 

All things apply equally under the law, from the trivial to the consequential, from the silly song to the cancer drug…examples are examples.  The copyright laws in each country differ and interact and I thought it might make for interesting conversation.  I’m not making a case.  I have only opinion.  And my opinion is that you can’t own an idea.

 
 
icehorse
 
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icehorse
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08 September 2018 08:09
 

For me at least, some interesting questions come up in this discussion:

- I feel that artists / authors (who probably spent decades honing their craft), ought to earn royalties, at least for their lifetime.
- I bristle at Big Pharma propping up drug prices, even though they did the research. Is that a contradiction?
- Well for now at least, Big Pharma gets massive subsidies from the public, in my mind that weakens the case that they can be profiteers.
- But what if Big Pharma - in fact - took ALL the R&D risks, what then?
- Is there some way to claim that some works are more “life essential” than others? That health care business should be treated differently than music? That starts to feel like a slippery slope.

 
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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08 September 2018 08:37
 

Whether you can own or not own an “idea” is probably not the most useful approach to the issue of patents and copyrights, for what you can own depends on how “idea” gets operationalized. 

For instance, referring to the patent mentioned in this thread, Banting, Best and Collip both did and did not patent an “idea.”  In one respect, they did patent one.  Deriving a substance from pancreatic tissue therapeutic for diabetes was an initially an idea, and they patented both the substance derived and a method for purifying it.  But using insulin—the substance they patented—to treat diabetes was also an idea, and they didn’t patent that.  In other words, if the necessary recombinant DNA technology existed back then to synthesize artificial “insulin” from yeast or bacteria—a different substance than the one they patented, from a different source—then someone could have patented that “idea” and its resulting substance and method and still used it to treat diabetes, without running afoul of the original insulin patent.  So no, in one sense the general idea of using “insulin” to treat diabetes wasn’t patented, but yes, in another the purified substance called insulin as derived from a specific source to treat diabetes was.  Issues like these permeate many, even perhaps most, patent cases.  They bear directly on whether one owns an “idea”.

So can an “idea” be owned?  It depends on how you operationalize idea, especially with respect to how general it is, and with respect to how it can be expressed or realized in alternative ways (like synthetizing “insulin” from yeast or bacteria realizes the “idea” of insulin in another way than deriving it from pancreatic tissue.  You can own one way of deriving it but not the general idea of deriving or using insulin). 

With this in mind, I think it is far more productive to focus on the specifics of patent and copyright law than the rather philosophical question of “owning an idea.”  For the answer to that question turns on how “idea” is operationalized, and it has alternative answers, depending on the nature and scope of the idea—assuming, of course, it’s left the originator’s head and entered into the destiny of the world in some way.

Unless of course one wants to argue that there is no basis for patent or copyright law because no idea of owning an idea makes sense…
 

[ Edited: 08 September 2018 08:49 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
LadyJane
 
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LadyJane
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08 September 2018 08:48
 

Like I said…Ideas are not copyrightable.  Only the execution or expression of those ideas.

 
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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08 September 2018 08:51
 
LadyJane - 08 September 2018 08:48 AM

Like I said…Ideas are not copyrightable.  Only the execution or expression of those ideas.

But in what way is an expressed or executed idea no longer an idea?  If it is still an idea, just an expressed or executed one, it can be copyrighted or patented, and therefore owned. Surely there is more to this issue than just those semantics…

And just so I’m clear, if I have an idea how to solve a problem and implement it, then someone else gets credit for solving it, that someone else might say to this misdirected credit-giver, “no, that solution was the Anus’ idea” without doing violence to the meaning of idea.

[ Edited: 08 September 2018 08:57 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
LadyJane
 
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LadyJane
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08 September 2018 08:57
 

The copyright applies to the expression.

 
 
icehorse
 
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icehorse
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08 September 2018 09:02
 
LadyJane - 08 September 2018 08:57 AM

The copyright applies to the expression.

Your OP was heavy on using expressions of ideas in your argument.

 
 
LadyJane
 
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LadyJane
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08 September 2018 09:08
 

Yes.  And those expressions are now copyrighted.  The idea is not.

 
 
icehorse
 
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icehorse
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08 September 2018 09:14
 
LadyJane - 08 September 2018 09:08 AM

Yes.  And those expressions are now copyrighted.  The idea is not.

From your OP:

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.

My understanding of your OP was that you were arguing two points, ideas AND their expressions. Did I misunderstand you?

 
 
LadyJane
 
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LadyJane
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08 September 2018 09:45
 

The title of the thread states You Can’t Own An Idea.  You are free to disagree.  If you feel strongly enough about it you should probably write your congressperson.  The original post was intended to illustrate how one can own an expression of an idea and how that understanding has changed over time.  As subsequent posts hopefully illuminated.  I figured what with the possible change in copyright duration laws in the near future it might be informative.  Personal anecdotes can be interesting but they are not the whole argument.  These laws pervade society and pertain to us all.

 
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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08 September 2018 09:47
 

From the text of the law:

“In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work” (emphasis added). 

Note this does not draw an absolute line between expression and idea, as you seem to be suggesting, as though one can in principle exist without the other, and some clear principle demarcates them.  It merely says that you can’t copyright one regardless of the existence of the other.  As this rule plays out in the case law, there is a mutual reciprocity and lack of a clear demarcation between expression and idea. 

For instance, if I translate The Old Man and the Sea into German I’ve changed the expression completely but nothing essential about the idea.  I will run afoul of copyright law.

If I rewrite the monologues and descriptions but preserve the plot and story line, then I’ve changed the expression of the idea of an old man fishing alone in a boat on the ocean and losing his fish to sharks, but if I re-express the “idea” of the plot and story line in this new way, I still will run afoul of copyright law (there was a similar case with Gone with the Wind).
 
Alternatively, if like Minkowski I take Einstein’s theory of special relativity and give it new mathematical expression, then I do not run afoul of copyright law, for I’ve said the same theory in an essentially new way. 

None of these examples establish a usable bright line between the expression of an idea and an idea as such, which is why some legal scholars have suggested ditching the dichotomy and focusing instead on what courts end up focusing on anyway, on a case by case basis—protected expressed ideas and their violations.
 
In any case, one can say copyright applies to the expression of but not to the idea itself all one wants, but since an expressed idea is still an idea, and since ideas and their expression are mutually reciprocal, one is de facto copyrighting ideas as well, just not some pure idea that might exist outside the medium of any possible expression.  But who even thinks such ideas exist, much less that they could be copyrighted?  And since in all cases we’re talking about expressed ideas, who cares about unexpressed ideas as such?

If we are going to intelligently address the copyright and patent laws that affect all of us, then were are going to have to do more than reiterate unhelpful dichotomies that establish no apriori clear standard for implementing them.

[ Edited: 08 September 2018 09:56 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
GAD
 
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GAD
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08 September 2018 09:53
 

At this point the idea that “You Can’t Own An Idea” has been thoroughly rebuked, clearly you can and the law and society support it.

 
 
Jb8989
 
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Jb8989
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08 September 2018 09:56
 
LadyJane - 08 September 2018 09:45 AM

The title of the thread states You Can’t Own An Idea.  You are free to disagree.  If you feel strongly enough about it you should probably write your congressperson.  The original post was intended to illustrate how one can own an expression of an idea and how that understanding has changed over time.  As subsequent posts hopefully illuminated.  I figured what with the possible change in copyright duration laws in the near future it might be informative.  Personal anecdotes can be interesting but they are not the whole argument.  These laws pervade society and pertain to us all.

But you haven’t a grasp on them. The reason ideas are said not be copyrightable, which is only one form of intellectual property law mind you, is because the advancement of underlying intellectual causes like processes and concepts are hard to regulate without thought policing. Copyright law is actually intended to protect originality. Original expressions of ideas are still ideas, in fact they’re often two ideas: the actual concept and the choice of medium which best suits it.

 
 
LadyJane
 
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LadyJane
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08 September 2018 10:04
 

The law seems to agree with the title of this thread.  Maybe it’s time to move on and express some new ideas.

 
 
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