January 23, 2004

Mary Directs Us To A Vital Point [11:19 pm]

Fractals, Digital Divides and Policy

Morton Horwitz Professor and Legal Historian at Harvard spoke next and gave perhaps the best talk of the conference. In a brilliant talk Horwitz discussed access to technology as a right the way we consider access to language education (for example, to non-native speakers) a right.

Damn right! As we are increasingly alienated through the use of technological instruments, access to those instruments becomes just as vital as other bedrocks that protect our freedoms — language, culture, history. As the Second Enclosure Movement proceeeds, defending access in the face of arguments about protecting property will be the objective on the battlefield — and, as Donna points out, we need a new rhetoric/language to get this point across.

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I’m Depressed [11:11 pm]

So, a couple of years into tracking this set of issues, and it feels like I’m just spinning my wheels. My accomplishments in this domain mostly have to do with the students that I’ve had the chance to teach about this, but that’s a really long term strategy — and, at the rate things are going, there might not be enough time to hope that strategy will come to fruition.

The notion that Congress is priming to overturn the principles in Feist is just horrifying. After all the criticism of the European legislation in this area, I can only believe that this is willful ignorance of the threat. The opportunities for abuse are going to be legion, and it’s clear that, in the current climate, those abuses will be undertaken and exploited as fully as the market and the technology will allow.

It’s actually a little perverse. Creating a database and locking it up behind a pay-wall certainly allows the creator to extract rents from his/her labors. But, putting it out on the WWW for free generates traffic only for as long as the database is well-maintained and the content updated regularly. With copyright extended to databases, it could easily be the case that publishing a database online will award the creator with a monopoly that might allow his/her to extract rents, but no longer requires the database owner to maintain the database itself. The barrier to entry that copyright awards will limit competition. I would argue that competition is, in this domain, the engine for creativity — and the monopoly that copyright awards in fact undermines the creativity that copyright is supposed to engender.

In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if the real innovation that needs to be protected is the ability to innovate new ways of making money/conducting business. This is the kind of meta-innovation that emerges out of technological advance, and increasingly it appears that our construction of copyright is limiting that creativity in favor of other kinds of creativity. And, I fear that protecting the latter at the expense of the former will just ensure the decline of the marriage of technological advance and market innovation that has produced so much progress and wealth to date.

Oh, well. It’s late, I’m tired and it’s been a long week. I’m out of touch with what my online friends have to say. I need a little optimism and I hope that, as I catch up on things this weekend, there will be some of that to find. But, for the moment, I understand why Larry has such a hard time expecting that people will see the light. He’s worked a lot harder, and with a lot more apparent success, yet we’re still having weeks like these. Maybe it’s time for a change in tactics………..

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Catching Up….. [10:52 pm]

A little catching up to do; especially since it appears that this was a particularly ugly week for those who believe that there are limits to what copyright should be employed to achieve. How many perfectly protected monopolies can our economy sustain before the underlying mechanics fall apart?

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How Many More Errors Can We Repeat? [6:14 pm]

Sorry, I’ve been really swamped, but this needs noting: Tech firms fail to squelch database bill (Committee press release: Judiciary Committee Passes Database Protection Legislation)

A congressional panel on Wednesday approved a proposal to curb database copying, ignoring the objections of technology companies that launched a last-minute lobbying campaign to kill the proposal.

By a 16-7 vote, the House Judiciary committee approved an intellectual property bill that had been opposed by Amazon.com, AT&T, Comcast, Google, Yahoo and some Internet service provider associations.

The proposal, backed by big database companies such as Reed Elsevier and Thomson, would extend to databases the same kind of protection that copyrighted works such as music, literature and movies currently enjoy. Its supporters say that such protection is necessary to stop rivals from extracting information from proprietary databases like Reed Elsevier’s LexisNexis service instead of going through the far more expensive process of compiling it themselves.

I’m sure that there’s lots of discussion in the usual places, but I needed to get this up. See also Slashdot: Congressional Committee Approves Database Bill

A nasty end to a nasty week for me……………..

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