Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Category 2: Who Will Own Your Next Good Idea?

In his article "Who Will Own Your Next Good Idea?", Charles C. Mann covers many different aspects of copyright, copyright law and intellectual property rights, and the violation thereof. He starts the commentary with an anecdote about a friend whose intellectual property was "stolen", and leads himself into a description of intellectual property and what it entails. It includes, he explains, "three customary domains: copyright, patent and trademark." This at first surprised me, as I saw those three words as synonymous. But really, they're just different branches of the same basic legal system. Copyright, now as then, is the most prevalent, because it covers the kind of media that moves through the internet. Literature and the arts are covered by copyright. Another thing that caught my attention was the age of this article. It was written 10 years ago, and I was surprised to see that there was such a problem with internet piracy even back then. Of course, much of the piracy the author references is still material (physical CDs are actually being sold, rather than mp3s being downloaded), but there is reference to the internet as a problem source as well.
Since the article is fairly old, however, in it Mann makes a few assumptions that can already be seen as incorrect. One was over the competition between books and computers. The supporters of paper complained that computers were taking over, but a comment was made that "[people] have not adjusted to bulky picture tubes on their desks." Perhaps not then, but now they are as widespread as televisions. They're not bulky or heavy anymore, either. Computers have become versatile, mobile and commonplace, just like books. In 1998, that wasn't really a threat, or at least not one that everyone took seriously, but it's certainly come to pass, only 10 years later.
In the last third of the article, Mann moves into a history lesson. Taking us back two hundred years, he shows us that the use and abuse of copyright is not a new thing. He also presents arguments that copyright isn't necessarily good, and that piracy isn't necessarily bad. At least, not for the general public. In fact, when printing was a fairly novice trade, underground printing was the only way to get new works out to everyone. But it hurt the authors of the works, because they didn't get compensated for their creative property. Because that's really what it boils down to. Authors, artists and inventors, programmers, musicians... everyone deserves a right to their own creations. And they deserve to profit from them.

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