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Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

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In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

Copyfight

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July 30, 2005

What Does "Copyfight" Mean?

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We've talked here before about what it means to be a "copyfighter," with lawyer Erik J. Heels providing an excellent definition (emphasis, mine):


I don't always agree with other engineers, lawyers, or business people, especially if I feel they don't understand the "how" of the technology, the "why" of the law, or the "so what" of business. And don't get me wrong, I like being called "linkable and thinkable." But if "copyfighter" means "one who fights against bad copyright laws (and for smarter business practices)," then I am a copyfighter.

Now Cory Doctorow, who has been spreading the "copyfight" meme like a blazing inferno, has finally been asked, point blank, "What does 'copyfight' mean?" Here's his definition, in the context of an interview about what's happening at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO):

Copyfight is the broad banner to describe people who are fighting for reforms to intellectual property -- trademarks, patents, copyrights and what are called "related rights" (broadcast rights and so on). ...

[WIPO has been pursuing a policy of] simply making more copyright, more patent, more related rights, more trademarks on the grounds that all of these rights were themselves a good, regardless of the impact they had on people -- whether they were denying access to patented pharmaceuticals in poor countries that desperately needed them and couldn't afford to buy them at the market price, or simply creating copyright regimes that made basic education more difficult to provide in developing nations. ...

WIPO...created regimes that made it illegal, just for instance, to reverse-engineer digital rights management tools and create locally interoperable products, so you had to import foreign goods, which could only play foreign media, and your local arts scene would find itself smothered, your culture would find itself overwhelmed by imported culture, and your local technologists would be undermined by foreign interests.


My own attempt at a definition: the copyfight is the battle to keep intellectual property tethered to its purpose, understanding that when IP rights are pushed too far, they can end up doing exactly the opposite of what they're intended to do. That's why I find James Boyle's recent series of articles on "IP stupidity" such a satisfying read. He advocates for smarter IP, not no IP. And by smarter IP, he means IP that doesn't threaten free speech and democracy, competition, innovation, education, the progress of science, and other things that are critically important to our social, cultural, and economic well-being.

Every so often, I get an email from a Copyfight reader asking where the blogs are for "the other side" of the copyfight. The question always makes me uncomfortable. For one thing, I don't like to think we're all so easily lumped into categories. What possible good can come from standing so far apart that we can only launch long-range missiles at one another -- while readers yawn and look away? But more importantly, red state/blue state thinking is a big part of what keeps us in this ridiculous stalemate. You say tomato, I say tomato; we don't even get to potato before calling the whole thing off.

What readers are really asking for is the kind of real, honest-to-goodness debate that will give them the tools for understanding things like the Grokster decision. I'd like to to see that kind of debate, too. But what I often see from the "other side" is a bizarre kind of baiting strategy -- attempts to get a rise by either suggesting or outright arguing that people who fight for balanced copyright are automatically opposed to any and all copyright.

Case in point: not long ago I received a very polite email from the Institute for Policy Innovation's Sonia Blumstein announcing its new weblog, IP Blog. Wrote Blumstein:


IPBlog is not the only blog on intellectual property, we know, and it's not even the only one from a free-market perspective. But we know we have compelling content and commentary to share, and we hope you'll join us. ...We're also happy to have your suggestions for content, if you come across something of interest. And we're interested in your feedback and suggestions. We will be expanding and improving both the design of the site and its content on an almost daily basis.

What a nice invitation. Off I went for a visit. And found this post describing an interaction with A2K prononents at the WIPO Development Agenda meetings:

In a discussion thread on this blog, I challenged a critic to try to live an IP-free life for some brief period of time. ...Anyway, that reminded me of something funny I saw back at the WIPO meetings in April, the IIM/1, as it's come to be called. All the IP sceptic folks showed up on the last day of the meeting wearing their adorable black "A2K Now" tee shirts.

Well, as I was sitting in close proximity to the commies with the Free Software Foundation, I got a close look at the tee shirts in question. You can imagine my glee as I pointed out to them that the tee shirts they were wearing actually carried not one but TWO different forms of IP protection. On the tag there were both brand and style registered trademarks.

"Where are your open source tee shirts?" I asked. "Show me your Creative Commons commemorative gear!" I taunted. This resulted in a rather heated discussion, as you might imagine, but I got a huge kick out of it.


Good grief. What's next -- spitballs?

I suppose this post is my inexcusably long-winded way of arguing for a definition of the copyfight that gets us as far away as possible from spitball territory. Is it really so difficult to agree that intellectual property can sometimes be pushed too far, in ways that harm society? That there are smarter approaches to IP law and policy than one-size-fits-all, more = better? Do we really have to go back to grade school each and every time to explain that we're not communists when we say so?

Comments (24) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Big Thoughts


COMMENTS

1. Seth Finkelstein on July 31, 2005 3:15 PM writes...

Ah. Along with liberals vs. radicals from a little while back, we have
"What Is "The Movement?""

But, sadly, no matter what definition is used, the UNDERLYING ISSUE which drives the "spitballing" will remain: The conflict between the public and private interests.

Schematically, some of those in favor of increased private interest, at the expense of the public interest, use terms like "commie" and "hippie" and "in favor of theft", etc. etc. This is standard marketing. Jack "Boston Stranger" Valenti exemplified it.

I suppose seeking to *define* "The Movement" as moderate, not radical, fair-minded, etc. in the face of this, is also good.

But the conflict itself can't be defined away.

Permalink to Comment

2. Cog on July 31, 2005 4:16 PM writes...

Good grief indeed. Giovanetti doesn't seem to understand the distinction between trademark and copyright. It's possible to be an anti-copyright extremist (not that the FSF people are) and still believe strongly in trademark/service mark law, because they serve two completely different social purposes. He also believes that using or developing Free Software somehow magically makes profits impossible, which IBM would be pretty surprised to hear. Why did you bother linking to this band of trolls?

Permalink to Comment

3. Tom Giovanetti on July 31, 2005 4:27 PM writes...

CopyLefties have seized on this particular instance (and this particular posting on our blog)and have used this extreme example to characterize all of our efforts. Using exceptions and extremes to characterize your opponents arguments is poor rhetorical technique.

It would be easy enough for us to find extremely leftist and socialist sentiments on IP Skeptic blogs and to use those posting to characterize your entire philosophy (indeed, we occasionally have), but if we did, you'd complain too.

The incident described in this particular IP Blog posting was humorous, at least to pro-IP folks. I can see that CopyLefties would not see the humor; indeed, they have not. You're allowed to cross lines (like the line between copyright and trademark) for humorous purposes. Indeed, crossing boundaries is a primary characteristic of humor.

We are aggressively pro-IP at IP Blog (and at the Institute for Policy Innovation). There are plenty of substantive arguments in favor of strong IP protection, and against the kind of weird new un-IP-like forms of IP that you all have invented to suit your own purposes. The arguments are there if you're really interested in dialog.

Finally, I can tell you that, more often than not, it's the CopyLeft activists who come unhinged and unglued and who resort to misinformation and distortion during dialog. It isn't the pro-IP folks who seem just a short step from emotional meltdown and to have only a partial grip on reality. The reason is that the IP status quo has much proof behind it, while the CopyLeft is pushing an unproven, noneconomic, ideological agenda. With precious little sound economic argument behind their agenda, it's no wonder that they quickly come unglued.

Permalink to Comment

4. John on July 31, 2005 8:14 PM writes...

"Finally, I can tell you that, more often than not, it's the CopyLeft activists who come unhinged and unglued and who resort to misinformation and distortion during dialog."

Yup! Indeedy! For example, those leftist, Stalin-loving Hippies vigorously claimed that the European software patent directive wasn't really about software patents! Oh... maybe it was the other side after all...

"It isn't the pro-IP folks who seem just a short step from emotional meltdown and to have only a partial grip on reality."

Yeah! Those nutjobs! I bet they're terrorists too and fund al-Quaeda on top of that!

"The reason is that the IP status quo has much proof behind it, while the CopyLeft is pushing an unproven, noneconomic, ideological agenda."

Really! Those fools! Just look at IBM, Redhat and all those companies... Totally unproven I say!
And all that ideology, like freedom. Seriously, freedom is the stupidest idea I've ever heard of.

"With precious little sound economic argument behind their agenda, it's no wonder that they quickly come unglued."

They really don't know what they are doing. Monopolies like, for example, Microsoft are known for their incredible efficiency, just like the old AT&T.
And if a large cartel, like, say, the RIAA, asks for custom laws, that isn't reintegration into the state and protectionism of a supposedly private sector. No! It's "free market" at it's best!

Permalink to Comment

5. Carey Lening on July 31, 2005 8:32 PM writes...

Nothing better than a spirited degeneration of 'What constitutes X.'

I truly believe that the longer one spends defining what it is to be a 'copyfighter' or who is/is not a good example of such, the less work actually gets done to change the situation. There have been entire groups that have come before (and will doubtless, come after) who spent a good chunk of their time on internal in-fighting (Copylefties/Stalinists, Pro-IPers/Facists), compared to the nuts and bolts issues.

Lets just say I won't be surprised if Godwin's law gets invoked on the copyright front ... ;)

Permalink to Comment

6. Seth Finkelstein on July 31, 2005 9:17 PM writes...

"Godwin's Law" Nazis are worse than Hitler. This thread has become a Gulag. I say to you that IP is to the Creative Common and the public domain as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.

There! :-)

Permalink to Comment

7. brian on August 1, 2005 1:21 AM writes...

See my critique of both Wentworth and Doctorow's definitions as well as how I would define "copyfighters."

Permalink to Comment

8. gcr on August 1, 2005 10:32 AM writes...

I've run into IPBlog before. And blogged it here:IP Noobs.

Permalink to Comment

9. Greg London on August 1, 2005 6:34 PM writes...

Another take on copyfighting:
"Bounty Hunters: Metaphors for Fair IP law"
http://www.greglondon.com/bountyhunters/

Permalink to Comment

10. R.Gopalakrishnan on August 2, 2005 4:02 AM writes...

The main problem with the traditional Left's approach to IPRs is its inability to understand that in historical terms, IP was a progress compared to the feudal era which limited the scope of knowledge and innovation to specific communities/castes/families and individuals. It is IPRs which made knowledge available to society in return for a limited term of monopoly in the era of market economy or capitalism. The crisis that IP laws now face only reflects the crisis of the present setage of development of capitalism when a contradiction has arisen between the imperatives of the Nation state and the need for survival of capitalism as a system.

Permalink to Comment

11. Teresa Nielsen Hayden on August 3, 2005 12:44 PM writes...

Copylefties? "The traditional Left's approach to IPRs"? What is this malarkey?

I work with rights and copyrights every day. So do the people around me. And you know what? Their opinions, which are varied, do not divide up along left/right lines. Neither do they reliably correspond to party affiliations.

I have trouble believing there's a standard leftist position on intellectual property rights, and I just somehow missed hearing about it during all the years I've spent working in the publishing industry.

Can someone here point me to solid ground, or is this whole discussion hanging in midair?

Permalink to Comment

12. Tom Giovanetti on August 3, 2005 5:16 PM writes...

Teresa,

In my experience, there is a very close correlation . . . people who are skeptical of the value of IP, especially those who have become activists against strong IP protection, are almost always from the political Left.

On the Right, there is a little less uniformity. There are people on the Right who aren't strong proponents of IP protection, but in general, those on the political Right strongly believe in property rights, including intellectual property rights.

Permalink to Comment

13. Seth Finkelstein on August 3, 2005 6:36 PM writes...

Teresa: That blather is a certain way the maximalist argument is expressed. The outlines run that copyrights, patents, trademarks, etc. are property, and property is unconditionally good, and anyone who is against property is thus [insert stream of ranting here about The Left, Commies, Hippies, Socialists, Flower-Children, The 60's, blah blah blah].

It's not very complex stuff. Just very tedious.

Permalink to Comment

14. Avedon on August 7, 2005 4:47 PM writes...

How curious. All these years I've supported copyright, and now I learn that I am "anti-Intellectual Property". How very confusing.

Permalink to Comment

15. maha on August 7, 2005 6:55 PM writes...

"In my experience, there is a very close correlation . . . people who are skeptical of the value of IP, especially those who have become activists against strong IP protection, are almost always from the political Left."

In my experience, that's nonsense. The people I've met who are most anti-IP tend to be (a) young and (b) either apolitical or right-wing/libertarian.

I also think the split is less about left v. right than about us old-media types (writers, graphic artists) and new-media technoweenies (programmers). The former tend to favor strong copyright laws; the latter are all about open source.

I'm as liberal as anybody, but as a writer who likes to get paid I am all in favor of my own intellectual property rights. On the other hand, I've spent 30+ years in book publishing, and I've got a big problem with extending copyright protection on into infinity, way past the lives of authors. I also have a problem with copyright owners who demand hundreds of dollars for quoting a few sentences or one-time use of a graphic. I have seen this. But years ago copyrights sometimes ran out while authors were still alive and needed income, so a balance needs to be struck.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Permalink to Comment

16. Dave Bell on August 8, 2005 1:04 AM writes...

One problem which gets glossed over by the people who simplify IP issues to s right-left split is that Copyright isn't everything.

But copyright gives individual creators a lot of control. It's the basic structure that supports Open Source and Creative Commons as well as all the traditional approaches. Or you can sign away everything to a big company.

What turns up the volume, and gets the corporate shills all worked up, is that the new ideas in IP cut them out of the deals. IP is supporting new markets, in which they're not the big, powerful, players. On the beach of IP systems, the corporate sharks are still prowling in the deeper water, but there's some odd little fish figuring out that they don't need to live in water.


Permalink to Comment

17. faron on November 13, 2008 9:09 PM writes...

occasionally I browse isohunt. Tks. this has stimulated my interest in movies and now I buy and rent more than ever.

Permalink to Comment

18. juan vasquez on November 14, 2008 9:18 PM writes...

Hi my name is juan vasquez , and i totally support you ,there no man that in this world can feel free if that man i restricted to shear his ideas , his informations ,his intellectual ,if in something i can help please drop me an e-mail

juan vasquez

Permalink to Comment

19. LOKESH CHOPRA on November 25, 2008 9:59 AM writes...

hi i m from india..man i m totally with u people on this..funny y these organisation want 2 stop people from sharing stuff..believe me it is no way going to be useful 2 stop allowing people from sharing movies,music,books..the mpaa should just back off..what is net without sharing..back here v rarely get a decent copy of any movie/music album..coz nobody wants 2 buy/ rent one just 2 c them once--its just too costly..guess the big companies r just too greedy..

Permalink to Comment

20. 1epi on February 14, 2009 10:35 AM writes...

Hy, I'm 1epi from Romania, and I would like to thank Isohunt.com , Mininova.com and last but not least ThePiratebay.org for distributing torrents, and help us, ordinary people and kids, to have access to KNOWLEDGE. Documentaries are my favorite, I first download a documentary from isohunt.com and then I buy it ! ...I already have a nice collection of 120 documentaries, first I downloaded the torrents that helped me to download ( not from isohunt.com ! ) the files(movies), I watched them, and after that, if I, and my wife, liked them I went to the store, and then bought them.

Thank you isohunt.com thank you for giving us the power of knowledge !

Permalink to Comment

21. donna on September 9, 2009 10:07 AM writes...

I am not very smart about these copyright and copyfight but I believe if its mine then I need to protect it. It would be awful if I made something, expecting to earn from it then some random people just have a copy of it for free.

Permalink to Comment

22. tink on November 27, 2009 11:37 PM writes...

i dont know much about copyright and copyfight, i know my boyfriend does. Isohunt is one of the best site ever, but i thougth as a human being we have a free will, will to share any documents, file, data that is ours. this stupid companys that have no life are suing these free site just because they can't get no business. they should be focusing about what the president is doing. because evenually he ani'nt doing shit at all.. whats's up with that party he had, he should be sending people home from iraq.. the world is a caos...

Permalink to Comment

23. tink on November 27, 2009 11:38 PM writes...

i dont know much about copyright and copyfight, i know my boyfriend does. Isohunt is one of the best site ever, but i thougth as a human being we have a free will, will to share any documents, file, data that is ours. this stupid companys that have no life are suing these free site just because they can't get no business. they should be focusing about what the president is doing. because evenually he ani'nt doing shit at all.. whats's up with that party he had, he should be sending people home from iraq.. the world is a caos... you guys have my full support.. thanks

Permalink to Comment

24. tink on November 27, 2009 11:38 PM writes...

i dont know much about copyright and copyfight, i know my boyfriend does. Isohunt is one of the best site ever, but i thougth as a human being we have a free will, will to share any documents, file, data that is ours. this stupid companys that have no life are suing these free site just because they can't get no business. they should be focusing about what the president is doing. because evenually he ani'nt doing shit at all.. whats's up with that party he had, he should be sending people home from iraq.. the world is a caos... you guys have my full support.. thanks

Permalink to Comment

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