Donna Wentworth
( Archive | Home | Technorati Profile)

Ernest Miller
( Archive | Home )

Elizabeth Rader
( Archive | Home )

Jason Schultz
( Archive | Home )

Wendy Seltzer
( Archive | Home | Technorati Profile )

Aaron Swartz
( Archive | Home )

Alan Wexelblat
( Archive | Home )

About this weblog
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.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this weblog are those of the authors and not of their respective institutions.

What Does "Copyfight" Mean?

Copyfight, the Solo Years: April 2002-March 2004

a Typical Joe
Academic Copyright
Jack Balkin
John Perry Barlow
Blogbook IP
David Bollier
James Boyle
Robert Boynton
Brad Ideas
Ren Bucholz
Cabalamat: Digital Rights
Cinema Minima
Consensus @ Lawyerpoint
Copyfighter's Musings
Copyright Readings
CopyrightWatch Canada
Susan Crawford
Walt Crawford
Creative Commons
Cruelty to Analog
Culture Cat
Deep Links
Derivative Work
Julian Dibbell
Digital Copyright Canada
Displacement of Concepts
Downhill Battle
Exploded Library
Bret Fausett
Edward Felten - Freedom to Tinker
Edward Felten - Dashlog
Frank Field
Seth Finkelstein
Brian Flemming
Frankston, Reed
Free Culture
Free Range Librarian
Michael Froomkin
Michael Geist
Michael Geist's BNA News
Dan Gillmor
Mike Godwin
Joe Gratz
James Grimmelmann
Groklaw News
Matt Haughey
Erik J. Heels
Induce Act blog
Inter Alia
IP & Social Justice
IPac blog
Joi Ito
Jon Johansen
JD Lasica
Legal Theory Blog
Lenz Blog
Larry Lessig
Jessica Litman
James Love
Alex Macgillivray
Madisonian Theory
Maison Bisson
Kevin Marks
Tim Marman
Matt Rolls a Hoover
Mary Minow
Declan McCullagh
Eben Moglen
Dan Moniz
Danny O'Brien
Open Access
Open Codex
John Palfrey
Chris Palmer
Promote the Progress
PK News
PVR Blog
Eric Raymond
Joseph Reagle
Recording Industry vs. the People
Lisa Rein
Thomas Roessler
Seth Schoen
Doc Searls
Seb's Open Research
Shifted Librarian
Doug Simpson
Stay Free! Daily
Sarah Stirland
Swarthmore Coalition
Tech Law Advisor
Technology Liberation Front
Siva Vaidhyanathan
Vertical Hold
Kim Weatherall
David Weinberger
Matthew Yglesias

Timothy Armstrong
Bag and Baggage
Charles Bailey
Beltway Blogroll
Between Lawyers
Blawg Channel
Chief Blogging Officer
Drew Clark
Chris Cohen
Crooked Timber
Daily Whirl
Dead Parrots Society
Delaware Law Office
J. Bradford DeLong
Betsy Devine
Ben Edelman
Ernie the Attorney
How Appealing
Industry Standard
IP Democracy
IP Watch
Dennis Kennedy
Rick Klau
Wendy Koslow
Elizabeth L. Lawley
Jerry Lawson
Legal Reader
Likelihood of Confusion
Chris Locke
Derek Lowe
MIT Tech Review
Paper Chase
Frank Paynter
Scott Rosenberg
Scrivener's Error
Jeneane Sessum
Silent Lucidity
Smart Mobs
Trademark Blog
Eugene Volokh
Kevin Werbach

Berkman @ Harvard
Chilling Effects
CIS @ Stanford
Copyright Reform
Creative Commons
Global Internet Proj.
Info Commons
IP Justice
ISP @ Yale
NY for Fair Use
Open Content
Public Knowledge
Shidler Center @ UW
Tech Center @ GMU
U. Maine Tech Law Center
US Copyright Office
US Dept. of Justice
US Patent Office

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


« DOJ to Google Books: "Hold On There" | Main | IFPI Commits Blogocide - Rules Be Damned »

February 16, 2010

Reclusive Mathematician to Crowdsourcers: Hold On There

Email This Entry

Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Steven Landsburg's blog "The Big Questions" tells the interesting story of the aborted attempt to crowdsource the work of Alexandre Grothendieck. The work in question is a series of very dense volumes of fundamental, game-changing publications in mathematics.

Grothendieck's work was originally published in 20 now out-of-print volumes from Springer-Verlag. Unfortunately, the demand for these works in the specialist mathematical community far exceeds the size of the supply of original printed volumes that remain. No problem, this is the Net age, and indeed a Dutch mathematics professor, Bas Edixhoven, had organized a crowdsourced effort to retype the works with proper mathematical symbols, typo corrections and so on.

All of which came to a screeching halt on receipt of a letter from Grothendieck himself that, while not threatening legal action, insisted that all such efforts cease. Grothendieck appears to hold the copyrights but his objections are not commercial. According to Landsburg (who admits he is also guessing) it has to do with the old man's unhappiness with how his works have been used since their publication.

I'm reminded of the story from January of last year, in which a copyright holder chose to withdraw works from circulation despite the likely benefits that would have resulted from their use. It's a reminder that not everyone sees things the same way, and not everyone cares about getting the widest possible distribution for what they've done.

ETA: the comments on the blog post contain several links with more information and a rough translation of the letter, if you're interested in more details.

(Full disclosure: Landsburg and I are casual friends and occasional verbal sparring partners. Neither of us makes any money from our blogs, though of course he makes money if you buy his book of the same name.)

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Use


1. Joe Clark on February 17, 2010 12:26 AM writes...

I would appreciate it if you did not adopt a mask of neutrality. Are you not actually attempting to say Grothendieck is committing a crime against scholarship by enforcing his own creator rights?

Or if I don’t have that exactly right, do you not feel this is a travesty of justice in some way which I’m sure you’ll explain to us?

Surely you do not neutrally support the principle that copyright holders can prevent nonexempt reproduction of their own works. Fundamentally I am quite sure you strenuously object. I just want you to be honest about it.

Permalink to Comment

2. DrWex on February 17, 2010 10:58 AM writes...

Fair question. I don't have a strong personal opinion on this one, not least because I'm not sure I understand it. If in fact this is someone who holds the rights to his own works and doesn't like how they've been used... well, then I support his choice to suppress further use of those works.

I think it's regrettable, not least because I respect Landsburg's judgment on the importance of the work. To choose voluntarily to suppress something that's of fundamental value to an entire field seems to me to be wrong-headed at the very least. And maybe Grothendieck really just is being a vindictive old man, which people probably ought not to be but it's hardly a crime.

But what value trumps that? If I think back to the Sita case I linked to in the original post there was a situation where a film could have potentially re-popularized a lost artist. The artist herself wasn't given a say.

I could also harken back to my screeds on the use of patents to suppress the cheap distribution of anti-AIDS drugs. There was a situation where I felt passionately that the rights of the IP holders needed to be trumped by the needs of sick people to get medicine to stay alive. And I certainly wasn't neutral about that.

So if I'm neutral on this case it's not a "mask" - it's that I'm not seeing what overriding good is served by going against Grothendeik's wishes. Are people going to die? Probably not. Will the information and knowledge in the works be lost? Definitely not.

So make me a case for the other side.

Permalink to Comment

3. Joe Clark on February 23, 2010 2:16 PM writes...

Well, it seems to me the issue is the complete reproduction of the work rather than reproducing an excerpt. If you quizzed him, I expect Grothendeik would admit this is the biggest thing that bothers him.

However: Nothing says you can’t quote the entirety of a work to comment on it. Absolutely nothing says this, including fair use and fair dealing (in respective countries). For example, pretty much the only way to comment on a photograph is to duplicate the entire photograph. This will surely not be true of an entire novel, but given how tightly one claim links to the next and the next in a mathematical proof, it may just be impossible to selectively excerpt. (Or if it is, it might be just the introductory pages you exclude, which is functionally equivalent to copying the whole book.)

If Grothendeik objects to the wholesale reproduction but if there really is no legitimate way to comment on the work without wholesale reproduction, then I’d be inclined to override Grothendeik’s wishes. But both stipulations would have to be true.

Also, fix the Unicode handling of your comments, please.

Permalink to Comment


Remember Me?


Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

Sherlock Holmes as Classical Fairytale
Trademark Law Includes False Endorsement
Kickstarter Math
IP Without Scarcity
Crash Patents
Why Create?
Facebook Admits it Might Have a Video Piracy Problem
A Natural Superfood, and Intellectual Property