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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/10783/professors-claiming-copyright-over-their-lectures-or-the-increasingly-evident-injustice-of-ip/

Professors Claiming Copyright Over Their Lectures: or, The Increasingly Evident Injustice of IP

October 6, 2009 by

See the great post from Mike Masnick, Professors Claiming Copyright Over Their Lectures, about the ridiculous case of some Harvard Professors claiming copyright in their lectures, jeopardizing the rights of students to take notes (this is so opposite the approach of the heroic MIT). I mused in an email, “what idiot can ever think this is libertarian,” and my compadre Manuel Lora replied, “it’s tricky. We’ve been told that we should get the fruits of our labor for hundreds of years. IP opposition goes against the grain.”

Great point. I think this has been a “dark horse” issue for so long for a few reasons. First, most non-libertarians are so statist and legislation-accepting, that they accept the common wisdom. Second, IP law is so arcane and convoluted that it’s not understood well by most non-specialist libertarians–so they sort of just assume it’s part of property law but just some boring, specialized area. The few libertarians who try to justify it on principle, like Rand or Galambos or Schulman, are so overboard or passionate that libertarians who only casually look at this assume they are right.

And a third reason is that until the digital, Internet revolution the abuse and injustice has been more limited and less visible. But I think with the increasingly visible examples of increasingly unjust applications, principled libertarians can see more and more easily that IP is poppycock. So that when they hear nonsense like “two copyrights” and just envisions students being sued for … taking notes, they know it’s all baloney.

We just need to persuade them it’s not fixable–it’s inherently screwed up. It can’t be fixed. It has to go.

{ 18 comments }

Henry Davis October 6, 2009 at 7:59 pm

Hey hey! Ho ho! IP has got to GO!…
Hey hey! Ho ho! IP has got to GO!…Hey hey! Ho ho!

Micah October 6, 2009 at 8:19 pm

On a related note…

Company that won $585M from Microsoft sues Apple, Google

Eolas, the company that won a patent case against Microsoft in 2003, has filed another patent infringement lawsuit, apparently targeting as many high-tech companies it could find. Citing infringement on the very same patent as the one that resulted in a $585 judgment against Microsoft, Eolas is now suing 23 companies, including Apple, Google, Adobe, Amazon, eBay, Playboy, Yahoo, and YouTube for implementing browser plug-ins in one form or another, plus another patent that addresses the use of asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX).

Is Eolas simply looking to get the fruits of its labors?

Jason Gordon October 6, 2009 at 9:17 pm

The fruits of its lawyers

Bala October 6, 2009 at 9:24 pm

This is the natural outcome of IP. Nothing surprising. Next, students will get sued by their former school and college teachers for using ideas the latter had copyrighted. They will thus be able to claim copyright violations in everything their former student does. It sure is going to be very interesting.

Zachary Catanzaro October 6, 2009 at 11:37 pm

During my undergrad, one of my professors (International Business, I think) not only claimed a copyright to his powerpoint slides, but also warned us that it was an “academic violation” to use his powerpoints for anything but preparing for his class.

Also, most universities already claim a copyright to students work; the majority of papers I turned in in my undergrad were put through a program called turnitin. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turnitin. The parent company has been sued several times for copyright violations.

Dick Fox October 7, 2009 at 6:47 am

The larger issue is completition in education. The government monopoly in education breeds monopoly in other areas. Competition in education would nip this in the bud.

And you have to ask the question who is more greedy a businessman selling products that help people in their lives or educators attempting to make money off of their captive audience of students? Totalitarianism take many forms.

Mike C. October 7, 2009 at 11:27 am

Society’s original intent in offering patents was to offer a reward — in the form of money, recognition, protection — for good and useful ideas. Ideas are the product of ones mind and are obviously one individual’s personal property until and unless he/she releases it to the general public. After which, with no protection, it becomes a free shark feed in which all can do with it as they please.

And my assertion is simply this; if society is not going to find and offer some form of “meaningful” protection or reward for truly beneficial, valuable and quality ideas then society can expect such ideas to simply dry up. I would not expect that any individual would have bothered to share his idea for the shovel if he only expected that his ingrate brothers would take it as theirs and callously leave him to starve in the drainage ditch they dug with it.

As such, I could care less about whether the latest pop artist can protect his or her new CD or not but, in such a hostile IP environment, I would not be at all surprised if the cure for cancer or a practical solution to energy and food problems might not be delayed for decades or even totally abandoned. Why would any sane researcher share something if he knew he could only expect to be crapped on by society… and why would any rational corporation spend years, and billions in research and development if all that XYZ inc. down the street has to do is sit on their hands, wait for the product, copy it and then undermine the market?

IP may be a bureaucratic government mess and it is certainly cluttered with frivolous IP design and art claims that should have never seen the light of day IMO, but the anti-IP crowd in many ways comes across sounding like a bunch of second hand bandits looking for an excuse to take advantage of others blood, sweat and tears too. At best, it appears that they are attempting to put the moral cart in front of the horse, and even from a simple utilitarian standpoint it seems very penny wise and pound foolish to me.

No one benefits from valuable idea’s that do not and will not come into existence and/or be shared in a Wild West bandit infested environment.

Michael A. Clem October 7, 2009 at 11:59 am

Society’s original intent in offering patents was to offer a reward — in the form of money, recognition, protection — for good and useful ideas.
You’re simply assuming that the marketplace itself won’t value ideas and the implementation of ideas. Entreprenuers are rewarded all the time for coming up with valuable ideas, but they aren’t paid for the ideas themselves, or even for the implementation of those ideas–they are paid when the implementation of those ideas takes fruit and garners more sales in the marketplace for their product or service.
If the marketplace is thus willing to reward people for coming up with ideas, then why do we need any additional inducement (assuming it works as intended)? Since the market works to meet consumers’ demands, wouldn’t any such intervention skew the natural supply and demand, and result in surpluses or shortages of some kind?

Cosmin October 7, 2009 at 12:24 pm

“if society is not going to find and offer some form of “meaningful” protection or reward for truly beneficial, valuable and quality ideas then society can expect such ideas to simply dry up.”

But society does reward the publication of valuable ideas, so your whole train of thought is erroneous.
To use your own example, if everyone uses shovels to replace their older way of digging, roads, canals, aqueducts, foundations for houses, mining, agriculture, everything gets done much more efficiently. Your shovel inventor benefits from a lower price on tomatoes, on his house, on pretty much verything he buys.
The one guy with the shovel idea could not possibly have done as much by himself.

Alternately, he can hold out until he gets his monetary reward like you want, but some other guy will come up with the same idea and society will move forward and leave him behind. (and good riddance)

jeffrey October 7, 2009 at 1:28 pm

Think of the fashion industry. Every designer is surrounded by pirates and enjoys absolutely no IP protection. knock offs at 1/100th the price appear within a year. Yet the industry isn’t collapsing. No one runs from a job in design. There is no lack of creativity.

As for the professor lectures, actually, if you want to claim IP, one really should not teach at all. I mean, a student might teach someone else, and that would be theft. Actually one should not speak or appear in public either (someone might copy your hairstyle or many of walking, thereby robbing you). The only way to protect your IP is actually to live in complete isolation and live off food slid under the door.

Geek Freak October 7, 2009 at 1:38 pm

Something about patents and IP: The company I work for is prominent in the healthcare industry. They have several products that they have developed and have NOT patented for the simple reason that, yes they would receive 17 years protection, but thereafter, their ideas become PUBLIC, thus subject to whoever can get hold of the US patent office. Their strategy is this: If you can reverse engineer and subsequently develop a similar product for market at a price lower that us, feel free, but you will never (not just after 17 years) get the information from us. In my opinion, IP and patents do nothing to keep people and companies from introducing innovative products.

Shay October 7, 2009 at 3:03 pm

Michael A. Clem, if IP protection is really wanted by all, why not have it voluntary? People who believe in it can avoid buying from people who use others’ ideas without permission, and everyone can have their physical property rights uninfringed on. Or are you saying that the masses want IP protection, but can’t be disciplined enough to refrain from buying from those who don’t believe in IP? There is no justification for the infringement on physical property rights, but that doesn’t mean that a (voluntary) system couldn’t be worked out that still rewards creators.

Mike C. October 7, 2009 at 5:13 pm

Jeffery said- “Think of the fashion industry. Every designer is surrounded by pirates and enjoys absolutely no IP protection. Knock offs at 1/100th the price appear within a year. Yet the industry isn’t collapsing. No one runs from a job in design. There is no lack of creativity.”

As I stated above, I could care less about whether the latest pop artist can protect his or her new CD or not… and I am not referring to what I consider everyday consumers goods that do not add any significant value to the economy, My point is more directed towards substantial leaps in technology.

Why should a man pour years of his life energy into the development of a new product or technology that would dramatically change men’s lives, perhaps even allow people to live twenty or thirty extra years, or provide a means of launching cargo into space 1000 times cheaper and then expect there only reward be a pat on the back and, the selfless mercy of his fellow brothers, to be allowed to produce and compete side by side against sharks that are perhaps 100 more capitalized and setup to take advantage of it? Is the simple fact that he can now afford to buy his own concept turned product from a store shelve cheaper than he might have otherwise produced it to be his only satisfaction?

I can certainly understand the idea behind not allowing IP on every single trivial improvement — such as in the Eolas v. Microsoft case as stated above or a new ear ring design. I simply wonder what your thoughts are on IP when “major” life changes and improvements to men’s are involved.

What troubles me most here is that from my understanding so far, it sounds like the individual is practically meaningless in the equation, it appears the only men who truly stand to benefit, in any real or substantive sense, from any new ideas, are the ones who are already the most capitalized and efficient, and the consumer in general.

And if that is the case then I could almost certainly foresee that many good and beneficial ideas, that might greatly improve men’s lives, would never be introduced in such a seemingly cheap, callous, and myopic society.

Thank you all for your responses, I apologize that I do not have the time to answer you all individually.

Havvy October 7, 2009 at 5:27 pm

Say an invention is made that expands the life span of humans by thirty years. Say it is not patented. Will the company or person who designed it still get money? Yes, they would. In two ways in fact.

1) Such an invention would be very tough to reverse-engineer, and in that time, said company or individual would have a monopoly on it, being the only one able to provide the service, unless said company or individual gives it out freely. This means that anybody who wishes to have the product, for awhile, can only go to one company or individual to obtain it.

2) Something on such a scale as this is prize-worthy to many people, including people with enough assets to create prizes. I expect that there would be donations coming in from many sources.

Patents just make it so that a company/individual cannot do something without having to pay another company/individual even if the company/individual never even knew of the existence of the patent holding company/individual. The only way to make sure such a payment exists is through force. Force is against the non-aggression principle, therefore patents are anti-ethical.

eric October 7, 2009 at 10:32 pm

I generally don’t like discussing IP from a utilitarian perspective since I could concede many of these points and still oppose IP on the grounds of non-aggression, but I suppose it’s good to demonstrate how the world can still function without state control…

“I simply wonder what your thoughts are on IP when “major” life changes and improvements…are involved.”

Without IP, major improvements can happen in small increments because men are free to build on all existing ideas. I think this might actually accelerate technological advancement.

“…it appears the only men who truly stand to benefit, in any real or substantive sense, from any new ideas, are the ones who are already the most capitalized…”

I could say the same about IP…it takes a lot of capital to acquire and defend a patent. There are surely counterexamples in either scenario, and I don’t see how this justifies a restriction of liberty anyway. Ownership of capital is inherently an advantage in the marketplace. You open up a whole can of worms if your aim is to reduce that advantage.

Mike C. October 7, 2009 at 11:24 pm

Havvy said – “Such an invention would be very tough to reverse-engineer”

Not every product would fall into this category; many mechanical and chemical designs that may be of great value are not necessarily that hard for other companies in similar fields to copy.

“Something on such a scale as this is prize-worthy to many people, including people with enough assets to create prizes. I expect that there would be donations coming in from many sources.”

I agree with you here and it is getting closer to the point, in fact, I am starting to understand and agree with the anti-IP argument a lot more too. My primary concern what would an IP free world look like and what would society’s general attitude and treatment of discoverers and inventor’s be like in a free market full of idea sharks searching for easy prey.

My primary concern was really this from the start. What would an IP free world really look like and how would an individual or a small company possible ever hope to bring an invention possibly worth billions to market without it being noticed and having it ripped away from them like a piece of raw meat?

Would a society based on libertarian espoused principles and law see the value in promoting small companies or individual’s with big idea’s and inventions… would they form private foundations that would offer grants and prizes or have investment groups that would help offer the resources – development, marketing and distribution channels — necessary? What kind of private confidentiality agreements would even be binding or enforceable in such a society?

Actually the problems and solutions are starting to become a lot clearer to me now so I guess I am getting there slowly but your response, like most others here, was very informative and helpful… thanks!

Abolish Taxes October 8, 2009 at 7:06 am

Mike C,

“I simply wonder what your thoughts are on IP when “major” life changes and improvements to men’s are involved.”

Sell your product right away and don’t reveal your trade secret.

JFF October 9, 2009 at 11:10 am

I think the appropriate response to these instructors, and excuse me if it sounds somewhat simplistic, is, “knowledge is not like a birthday cake. If I give you some of my knowldege, I still have it; whereas, if I give you a slice of cake, evenutally all of it will be gone.”

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