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The Dispossessed
December 24, 2009 11:54 AM   Subscribe

"I am not going to rehearse any arguments pro and anti the “Google settlement.” You decided to deal with the devil, as it were, and have presented your arguments for doing so. I wish I could accept them. I can’t. There are principles involved, above all the whole concept of copyright; and these you have seen fit to abandon to a corporation, on their terms, without a struggle." - Ursula Le Guin resigns from the Authors Guild over the Google Book deal. (Previously)
posted by Artw (116 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
When will principled, talented, creative, experienced producers of original, quality content like Ursula Le Guin ever learn that copyright is a relic of the past and is a Tool of The Man? She should just try self-publishing and book tours and be rich and famous like Cory Doctorow. We all have the right to remix her creativity to any we we choose. We are entitled to our entitlements.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:04 PM on December 24, 2009 [8 favorites]


I wish she'd been clearer about what she didn't like. It looks like a pretty good compromise to me. Google will give away access to out-of-copyright books, they'll sell access to in-copyright, but out-of-print books, which can be opted out of by the publishers or authors in question, and they show snippets of books that are still in print.

The only thing I could be see being uptight about is the opt-out requirement, but that really seems sensible to me... if you're not selling your book at all, it's in everyone's interest that electronic copies be made available for a fee, which you get a cut of. And you can opt out of that if you don't think the fee is enough, or you want your book kept out of distribution for some reason.

I just don't see what's to be upset about here; it sure looks like everyone involved wins.
posted by Malor at 12:06 PM on December 24, 2009 [22 favorites]


KokuRyu, thats a horribly disingenuous thing to say. Good job stuffing your straw man.

I'm not sure either party is in the right here, and Le Guin's huffy attitude doesn't seem to me to be the correct response either. Google Books are not 'free books' - they are often extremely limited, and reduced, previews of books. Less by far than what you would get if you walked into a book store and picked one up off the shelf and leafed through it. But nor is prohibiting Google's service the right move either - I've bought by far more books thanks to Books than I would have, simply because I had the option to leaf through the text online and see if it was, in fact, what I needed.

So, tl;dr - Copyright has issues. Google Books has issues. Waving the self smug pseudo corpse of Cory Doctorow whenever the topic comes up is a straw man.
posted by strixus at 12:12 PM on December 24, 2009 [7 favorites]


I love LeGuin's work, but she can be very much a stick in the mud. Still, if it's a boiling hot volcanic mudslide, being a stick in it isn't so bad. I am undecided about this settlement, but inclined to at least pay respect to the opinion of someone from the halcyon era of getting paid for things that one wrote.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:12 PM on December 24, 2009


The part of the Google arrangement that bugs me is that it is opt-out, rather than opt-in. There's a basic element of autonomy that this violates. For example, no one likes getting "opt-out" spam or having to get oneself onto a do-not-call list. And no one likes credit card or other service contract changes that take effect by doing nothing. Creative people shouldn't have to suffer the same fate by having their own life's work taken from them without initial consent.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:15 PM on December 24, 2009 [5 favorites]


Actually Doctorow does not particularly seem to be in favour:

The Authors Guild and the American Association of Publishers (who took part in the settlement) totally missed the real risk of Google Book Search: they were worried about some notional income from advertising that they might miss out on. But the real risk is that Google could end up as the sole source of ultimate power in book discovery, distribution and sales. As the only legal place where all books can be searched, Google gets enormous market power: the structure of their search algorithm can make bestsellers or banish books to obscurity. The leverage they attain over publishing and authors through this settlement is incalculable.

I like Google. I worry about the privacy implications of some of their technology, and I wish they had more spine when it came to censoring search results in China, but I think they make incredibly awesome search tools and every person I know who works at Google is a class-A mensch and a certified smart person (a rare combination).

But no one, not Google, not Santa Claus, should have this kind of leverage over the entire world of literature. It's abominable. No one benefits when markets consolidate into a single monopoly gatekeeper -- not even the gatekeeper, who is apt to lose its edge without competition to keep it sharp.

The publishers I spoke to about this were incredibly smug about it. Because the settlement gives them the power to keep new releases out of Google, they feel like they can use this to keep the company honest.

This is wrong.

posted by Artw at 12:15 PM on December 24, 2009 [16 favorites]


KokuRyu, thats a horribly disingenuous thing to say. Good job stuffing your straw man.

I believe he's being sarcastic...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:16 PM on December 24, 2009


Yeah, I'm really not seeing the culture-destroying bibliogeddon here. I guess it could be potentially disturbing that Google would have a huge market-share in the online book-searching, um, industry(?!?) -- but they already control a huge share of the very real online search engine industry, so if we're going to be freaked out about Weyland-Yutani-Google's monopoloy on the Internet, let's at least get our priorities straight.
posted by Avenger at 12:16 PM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


... if you're not selling your book at all, it's in everyone's interest that electronic copies be made available for a fee, which you get a cut of.

We came by while you were gone and stayed in your house for a week. We left $50 on the counter as per the opt-out agreement we mailed to you in the envelope with 'you may have already won' on the front. Your real estate agent came by with some buyers while we were there, and they said to tell you never mind on the tentative offer they'd made previously. Thanks and goodbye...
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:16 PM on December 24, 2009 [5 favorites]


I just don't see what's to be upset about here; it sure looks like everyone involved wins.

Well, one reason is that copyright is a property right, and some authors may feel that it just isn't right for the Guild to negotiate a settlement on their behalf (i.e., they would've preferred an individually negotiated, opt-in system). Consider this alternate version of what you wrote:

"It looks like a pretty good compromise to me. The Home Owners' Association will give away access to empty lots, they'll sell access to your backyard if you aren't using it, which can be opted out of by the homeowner in question, and they let people peep through the fence of backyards that are being used.

The only thing I could be see being uptight about is the opt-out requirement, but that really seems sensible to me... if you're not using your backyard at all, it's in everyone's interest that access be made available for a fee, which you get a cut of. And you can opt out of that if you don't think the fee is enough, or you want your backyard left alone for some reason."

Can you see how many home owners wouldn't feel so great about that? Why they might stop paying HOA dues or move out of the neighborhood?
posted by jedicus at 12:17 PM on December 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


The original terms of copyright in the United States, had they not been repeatedly extended for the sake of corporate interests, was 28 years at most. By that standard, here is the work written by Ms. Le Guin that would now be in the public domain:

- A Wizard of Earthsea, 1968
- The Tombs of Atuan, 1971
- The Farthest Shore, 1972
- Rocannon's World, 1966
- Planet of Exile, 1966
- City of Illusions, 1967
- The Left Hand of Darkness, 1969
- The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia, 1974
- The Word for World is Forest, 1976
- The Lathe of Heaven, 1971
- The Eye of the Heron, 1978
- The Beginning Place, 1980

And anything else she wrote before 1981. And why I am sympathetic to author's desire to continue having control and make profits from their work, I am not sympathetic to the endless degradation that the public domain has suffered under the hands of United States law. We all draw from the vast well that is the public domain, and it infuriates me that authors and other creators are not willing to pay back in, and they should understand that the only reason they are able to refuse to pay into the Public Domain is because multinational, multibillion dollar corporations are waging war against the Public Domain in order to protect their financial interests, with no concerns about the larger public good, despite the fact that the largest bully on the block, Disney, has made their considerable fortune plundering the Public Domain time and time again.

I love Le Guin as a writer, and her politics and mine dovetail in a lot of way, but I cannot side with her on this. She isn't protecting her own works, which should have been in the public domain already. She is siding with billionaires in a war against a collectively owned culture, which-- even in her lifetime -- was flexible enough that she undoubtedly knew writers who had created work and saw that work enter the public domain while they were still alive.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:18 PM on December 24, 2009 [106 favorites]


I saw something on TV (PBS maybe?) a few days ago which hinted at nefarious intentions of corporate ownership of culture—specifically, this very Google deal. Maybe she saw the same program and got all het up?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:19 PM on December 24, 2009


I'd be all in favor of "opt-in" if we had rational copyright terms. With the current laws, though, copyrights essentially never expire, and "opt-in" leaves hundreds of thousands of volumes basically in limbo, where no one can access them because the author are long dead and the estates long since settled.

You want "opt-out?" Fine with me if we can go back to the laws in place 50 years ago.
posted by tyllwin at 12:22 PM on December 24, 2009 [9 favorites]


I believe he's being sarcastic...

Sarcasm relies on disingenuousness.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 12:23 PM on December 24, 2009


And Metafilters contempt for artists who dare to suggest they might want to make money rears it's ugly head...
posted by Artw at 12:26 PM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


She is siding with billionaires in a war against a collectively owned culture...

This "collectively-owned culture" is brought to you by other billionaires who want to sell advertising. Is Google's page ranking algorithm part of the "collectively-owned culture"?
posted by AlsoMike at 12:32 PM on December 24, 2009 [7 favorites]


Artw: "And Metafilters contempt for artists who dare to suggest they might want to make money rears it's ugly head..."

Yes, getting access to the nintey-something percent of works which are out of print and would otherwise never sell a single copy or even be viewed by human eyes has nothing to do with this, it's all out of contempt for those lazy artists. You sure have Metafilter's number.
posted by mullingitover at 12:44 PM on December 24, 2009 [24 favorites]


This "collectively-owned culture" is brought to you by other billionaires who want to sell advertising. Is Google's page ranking algorithm part of the "collectively-owned culture"?

Once something enters the public domain, anybody can reprint it and make money from it. Or no money and give it away freely. And why the scare quotes around collectively owned culture? That's what the public domain is -- I didn't just invent the idea, and people have been drawing from it for the entirety of human history.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:46 PM on December 24, 2009


Yeah, I'm really not seeing the culture-destroying bibliogeddon here. I guess it could be potentially disturbing that Google would have a huge market-share in the online book-searching, um, industry(?!?)

One of the problems is that the Google settlement creates a huge barrier to anyone else trying to enter the same market. Because Google never got sued, we don't have a court decision that says, "yes, what Google is doing is fine, it doesn't breach copyright". If we did, other companies could do the same thing. What happened instead was that Google signed an agreement with the Authors' Guild. So Google can scan all the books it wants. If anyone else comes along, they don't have that agreement, so they could potentially be sued.

What we have is basically a monopoly, which is potentially a bad thing. (I like Google Books, but I'd like them to have competition, too).
posted by Infinite Jest at 12:48 PM on December 24, 2009 [9 favorites]


I'd be all in favor of "opt-in" if we had rational copyright terms. With the current laws, though, copyrights essentially never expire, and "opt-in" leaves hundreds of thousands of volumes basically in limbo, where no one can access them because the author are long dead and the estates long since settled.

How about opt-in, with short copyright terms that can be renewed, provided the rights-holdesr take a positive step to do so? (Like domain name registration; you don't renew, you lose it). Say 20 years, renewable for another 20. Plenty of time for people to get value from those few works that are actually valuable, and the 90%+ of books that go out of print can go straight to the public domain.
posted by Infinite Jest at 12:50 PM on December 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


We all draw from the vast well that is the public domain, and it infuriates me that authors and other creators are not willing to pay back in, and they should understand that the only reason they are able to refuse to pay into the Public Domain is because multinational, multibillion dollar corporations are waging war against the Public Domain in order to protect their financial interests, with no concerns about the larger public good, despite the fact that the largest bully on the block, Disney, has made their considerable fortune plundering the Public Domain time and time again.

Google is a multinational, multibillion dollar corporation. I know part of Google's PR strategy is to help people forget this, which is exactly why they shouldn't.

Google is an advertising firm. It would really not like to spend any money on anything it can use to increase exposure for its clients or harvest data to make itself a better advertising firm. You should all disabuse yourself of the notion that this Google's benevolent gesture. That's why when there's a conflict between market access and content delivery, the market wins every time. That's why Google is censored in China, and it's foolish to treat this like an isolated failure from a benevolent institution. It's part of a common strategy.

It has nothing to do with the public domain, and more to do with Google's parasitic relationship with content. The settlement won't let you do a bunch of things you can do with public domain materials. It just lets Google act as a funnel.

Let's say Google hooks Books up with AdWords/Sense (not just directly, but through feeds and similar services, or through crosslinking via front page search). Do you really think Ursula LeGuin would like The Word for World is Forest being used as a way to drive military recruitment? Or to raise awareness for a logging company? That's not just a fringe danger. It's pretty much the main point of Google.

Google is about "content" as a vague thing. It doesn't care about specific instances and in fact, enforces values that are contemptuous of the histories and intentions behind individual documents. That's why search now focuses on "freshness" over anything that might be considered canonical about a topic. It's why Google never went looking for authors, and leaves it up to them to sift through the index to claim their books. If anybody else published work without telling the creator and then asked him/her to find it and prove ownership, that person would be thought of as a larcenous fuckhead.

Professional Googlers seem like nice folks because they are in the main honestly convinced that there is something kind of pure and honest about a machine-generated set of values instead of something dirty and biased, like opinions formed by human narratives. Thing is, the machine is designed to sell things. That is its chief purpose, and the entire apparatus of Google content and ranking is designed around it -- around using your stuff to make it money. Of course you should be concerned.
posted by mobunited at 12:55 PM on December 24, 2009 [34 favorites]


It seems odd that she would be so anti-Google as to so publicly resign from the Authors Guild while still using Google custom search on her webpage. I guess GOOG isn't completely evil.
posted by jeffamaphone at 12:55 PM on December 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


We have to do something about the fact that most information is dying on the vine in books. It's like the situation where we have the index to all the books of Alexandria, but the data itself was burned thousands of years ago.

Wikipedia is the index. It's great, sure, but it's becoming the only way people learn about things.

I don't like Google being the only party that can play this game. Any company that subscribed to a certain set of rules should be able to participate -- just like anyone can start up a used bookstore without worrying about publishers (and don't act like this is ridiculous -- it's an artifact of the law, hated by some, see the video game industry). But right now, books and the information inside are rotting. We must, as a society, fix that.

Step one is giving up on Mickey. Disney will hijack copyright forever until Mickey is off the table.
posted by effugas at 1:04 PM on December 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Intellectual "property" != real property.

All of the house/backyard analogies, are total bullshit. Thomas Jefferson had the right idea when they first came up with the idea of copyright - it is not, and never was intended, to confer property rights. It was put forth as an inducement to build up the public domain.

I agree with LeGuin on a lot of issues, but this is not one of them. (I'm not a big fan of the Google deal either, though - Cory is right when he points out that it might be as much of a threat to the public availability of works as it would be to lock them up under perpetually extended copyright.)
posted by bashos_frog at 1:04 PM on December 24, 2009 [11 favorites]


Let's say Google hooks Books up with AdWords/Sense (not just directly, but through feeds and similar services, or through crosslinking via front page search). Do you really think Ursula LeGuin would like The Word for World is Forest being used as a way to drive military recruitment? Or to raise awareness for a logging company? That's not just a fringe danger. It's pretty much the main point of Google.

Well, it sounds to me like the issue at the moment is one of copyright. Right now, because Google cut a deal with the Writer's Guild, they pretty much have sole access to a lot of work that, if it were in the public domain, everybody would have access to, which makes them valuable from an ad standpoint -- moreso that widely available public domain works, which people could locate from multiple sources.

Frankly, I think this is just the start of the same shift in content that happened to the music industry. Books will be widely and freely available for download, whether in the public domain or not, and authors are going to have to address that, rather than try to fight it, or they will end up in the same boat as the music industry, suing fans while bleeding money.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:06 PM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Holy crap, Ursula Le Guin is still alive?
posted by cjorgensen at 1:10 PM on December 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


As an author whose book is out of print and who probably won't make a red cent from this deal, unless there's some future surge of public interest in outdated books on 'what is this internet thing anyway', I am just fine with it. I read about it, registered on the copyright administration website, and they send me an email every time there's a change or an update.

Frankly, I found the whole process easier, simpler, and far more informative about my rights/options etc. than the experience I had dealing with my publisher at the time, a rather large UK firm who refused to send me any information whatsoever about sales figures, ever, never sent me any royalties, and never got back to me about the timely and rather well-put-together book plan I submitted after my first work was published.

I know it was timely and quite well-put-together because they gave the book plan to another author and it appeared on shelves with exactly the same chapter and section structure that I had sent to them a year earlier. Though I salvaged a minor victory, I also learned something about just how clever 'standard contracts' are when it comes to limiting the rights of authors. I'll take my chances with Google.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:15 PM on December 24, 2009 [7 favorites]


Hathi Trust Digital Library is also working on a similar project, but their search function for books in copyright is even less helpful than Google's--you see pages on which search terms appear, but can't see the pages themselves.
posted by thomas j wise at 1:20 PM on December 24, 2009


"And Metafilters contempt for artists who dare to suggest they might want to make money rears it's ugly head

"hi, i'm pt, and i'm a self-contempting artist"
posted by pyramid termite at 1:20 PM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Astro Zombie: Unless you really intend to say that everything after the Copyright Act of 1790 was for the sake of corporate interests, that's really not accurate. By 1909, it was a 28-year-term with a one-time 28-year-renewal. Technically, nothing Le Guin wrote would be in the public domain.
posted by Amanojaku at 1:25 PM on December 24, 2009 [2 favorites]



"hi, i'm pt, and i'm a self-contempting artist"


Hi, pt!
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:27 PM on December 24, 2009


She isn't protecting her own works, which should have been in the public domain already. She is siding with billionaires in a war against a collectively owned culture, which-- even in her lifetime -- was flexible enough that she undoubtedly knew writers who had created work and saw that work enter the public domain while they were still alive.

I'm not so sure. By the time LeGuin was born in 1929, copyright protection had already been extended to 56 years. Even if nothing had changed since then, all of LeGuin's work would still be protected today.

As long ago as 1909, Mark Twain supported the idea of copyright for the author's lifetime plus 50 years. Whether you agree with Twain or not, he wasn't a billionaire. It's possible for a writer to support lifetime copyright without having been taken in by Disney.

(On preview: Amanojaku beat me to it.)
posted by frankchess at 1:27 PM on December 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Intellectual "property" != real property.

This makes no sense; both exist only because of an enforcement regime and both create artificial exclusivity. Intellectual property gives an exclusive right in a non-rival good, but that's an economic distinction, not a legal one. For example, patents are personal property by statute.

Thomas Jefferson had the right idea when they first came up with the idea of copyright

For starters, Thomas Jefferson didn't invent copyright or intellectual property, nor did the founding fathers more generally. Copyright goes at least as far back as the 1710 Statute of Anne and patents go back to at least the 1623 Statute of Monopolies. What's more, recent scholarship argues quite convincingly that the founding fathers' view of intellectual property was indeed that of a property right.

it is not, and never was intended, to confer property rights.

This is flatly wrong. Copyright is and was intended to confer a right to exclude, which is by definition a property right.
posted by jedicus at 1:29 PM on December 24, 2009 [10 favorites]


I just wish all of the out-of-copyright works on Google Books were properly accessible. What the heck is the deal, even, with the hits you get from before 1923 that are not viewable? It seems like there are quite a few things that cannot possibly be in copyright that are inaccessible.

And then there's all of the stuff from 1923 to 1964, most of which did not have its copyright renewed, which is inaccessible. Does anyone know whether there's some process going on to verify the copyright status of these works and get them opened up? Are all the libraries who have participated holding Google accountable for providing public access to the stuff there should be public access to?
posted by XMLicious at 1:29 PM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


There are principles involved, above all the whole concept of copyright

Oh yes, copyright is much more important letting the accumulate human knowledge sit and rot unknown and unread on forgotten bookshelves because it costs a fortune to track down their copyright owners of everything printed in the last century.

Google isn't even selling or giving away these books, they're just letting people search them.
posted by delmoi at 1:31 PM on December 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm just waiting for:

GOOG_BOOKS_ALL_DEC09.TORRENT (234 TB)
posted by geoff. at 1:35 PM on December 24, 2009 [17 favorites]


We have to do something about the fact that most information is dying on the vine in books. It's like the situation where we have the index to all the books of Alexandria, but the data itself was burned thousands of years ago.

I don't know about you, but I have shelves full of books from thirty-plus years ago that anyone can walk up to and read. Can't say the same about floppy disks and stacks of punch cards, though. I would suggest that the continual reinvention of electronic media combined with the obsessive-compulsive nature of early adopters and e-demagogues who MUST. MOVE. TO. NEW. FORMAT. NOW. is a greater danger to our cultural storehouses than books literally falling to dust before we can reissue them.
posted by Amanojaku at 1:36 PM on December 24, 2009 [5 favorites]


The part of the Google arrangement that bugs me is that it is opt-out, rather than opt-in. There's a basic element of autonomy that this violates.

Except that wouldn't work because people who don't know or care about worthless copyrights they've inherited or acquired through buying companies/literary estates/whatever are not going to bother opting-in to all of their. They won't even know about it.

The whole problem is finding people.

That's also how copyright works. If someone posts your video up on youtube, you have to request they remove it first. Otherwise things like youtube, or ultimately any hosting solution wouldn't even exist.

The only problem is that it only applies to one company. Really the archives should be open and free for all, if they are going to have an opt-out.
We came by while you were gone and stayed in your house for a week. We left $50 on the counter as per the opt-out agreement we mailed to you in the envelope with 'you may have already won' on the front. Your real estate agent came by with some buyers while we were there, and they said to tell you never mind on the tentative offer they'd made previously. Thanks and goodbye...
That's not even remotely compareable.
And Metafilters contempt for artists who dare to suggest they might want to make money rears it's ugly head...
It's not the "making money" part that's the problem, it's the "controlling everything people do to prevent the possibility that someone might enjoy their work without them making money, no matter how much collateral damage such restrictions cause"
This "collectively-owned culture" is brought to you by other billionaires who want to sell advertising. Is Google's page ranking algorithm part of the "collectively-owned culture"?
Um, yes? I realize they have a patent but they've never sued anyone over it. Lots of people have implemented page rank.
posted by delmoi at 1:45 PM on December 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


bashos_frog: Intellectual "property" != real property.

jedicus: This makes no sense; ...

Oh, come on. I have difficulty believing that this is really nonsensical to you. He or she is saying something along the lines that a thing which cannot be possessed can't be property. It might be difficult to come up with a hard-line definition to distinguish them but it most certainly does make sense to say that some things are really property and some things can't be property or are somehow virtual property, and that IP falls into the latter category.

Amanojaku: I don't know about you, but I have shelves full of books from thirty-plus years ago that anyone can walk up to and read. Can't say the same about floppy disks and stacks of punch cards, though.

I'll bet you wouldn't have much luck reading things that were written during the first thirty or forty years after writing was invented, though.
posted by XMLicious at 1:46 PM on December 24, 2009


The original terms of copyright in the United States, had they not been repeatedly extended for the sake of corporate interests

This is false. Copyright was extended from 28 years to 56 years in the early 20th century without any involvement from "corporate interests."

I agree that the Sonny Bono bill was a pile of corporatist shit, but rolling back to 28 years is ridiculous constructionism. When the term of copyright was 28 years, Jim Crow was still the law of the land and women didn't have the vote.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:52 PM on December 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


When the term of copyright was 28 years, Jim Crow was still the law of the land and women didn't have the vote.

Not arguing that any of those things are connected, of course--just arguing that old law isn't necessarily good law.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:53 PM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ursula K. Le Guin Resigns From Authors Guild, Because It Didn't Keep Up Its Silly Fight With Google
posted by Ritchie at 1:54 PM on December 24, 2009


delmoi: “Google isn't even selling or giving away these books, they're just letting people search them.”

You're honestly making this argument? The Eric Schmidt argument? "Google isn't doing anything bad with all of your personal information, copyright privileges to all your books and media, control over chunks of the distributed DNS, and half of the internet itself." So you're actually arguing that this is a "good" corporation that we can trust - unlike those bad corporations like Microsoft that we can't trust?

It's a sign of Google's tremendously successful scheme of marketing by blanket immersion that absolutely no one seems to see anything wrong with this except the people who've been forced to see it because they're caught up in it - like Ursula K. LeGuin. It's easy to feel as though Google is a nice, friendly, slumbering giant - it's been such a tremendously benign part of our lives for so long that it's natural for all of us to think that way. So of course we simply don't notice or care at all when the CEO of Google says something like:
"If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place. If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines -- including Google -- do retain this information for some time… it's important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities."
Did you notice what Asa Dotzler (in many ways the public face of Mozilla and Firefox) said when he heard that? He told people they should stop using Google and start using Microsoft Bing. This is Mozilla we're talking about here - happy, open-source, valiant-underdog Mozilla - and he's recommending a Microsoft product because he apparently thinks Google is worse than Microsoft in certain essential ways. Doesn't that set off a few tiny alarms in your head?
posted by koeselitz at 1:54 PM on December 24, 2009 [6 favorites]


Or, more bluntly:

Fuck Google. No corporation should have that kind of power. People keep acting like you're an idiot if you don't trust Google, but I don't trust companies, I trust people. Anybody who thinks that handing Google all control over copyright, private information, texts, and media of all kinds is fine because they're a nice little private enterprise is pretty much the same as those silly old Reaganites who think we should privatize love or some such nonsense.
posted by koeselitz at 1:57 PM on December 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Since its inception, the Web has been thought of as a more or less unregulated place-- a virtual world without a government. Governments, as we know, rule ultimately through force, and except insofar as real-world law enforcement takes an interest in things likes kiddie porn, force doesn't play much of a role on the Web. Force and fear aren't the Web's driving impulses-- on the Web, force and fear are replaced by desire, interest, hunger.

The most important commodity is attention.

There is no monopoly of force on the Web, because there is no force; there is near-monopoly of attention, and that monopoly is Google's. Though few think of it in those terms, there is a government on the Web-- one that guides attention, and controls attention, and charges taxes and tariffs for attention and access. Being a well-run government, it uses the proceeds of its taxes to offer various utilities and support services, even handling your email, your personal schedule, and enabling you to forgo some of the expensive tools such as word-processing software you may have had to pay in the past. This government, of course, is Google.

In the early days of the personal computer, there was a company with a very aggressive approach to marketing: Microsoft. Its approach was so aggressive, and its public relations efforts so naive, that the company eventually spurred a backlash, and one from the real-world of government and force. That company was chastened and weakened. Of course, though its unpopularity stemmed largely from its internal failings, it also had a structural element: Consumers saw Microsoft in terms of the physical devices on which its hardware was installed. (Being able to relate an emotional association to a physical artifact strengthens the association; compare the strong negative feelings toward a "Windows" artifact with the strong positive feelings toward an "Apple" artifact.)

Google, though, is not bound by physical objects (apart from its phone, which has yet to have an impact). Where PCs and Macs are cars, Google is the highway, the road signage, every map relating to all the directions you can travel. Google does not specialize in making or selling pretty things-- it is the means through which one experiences pretty things. Imagine that, in the pre-digital world, there was a single entity responsible for taking you to the movies, taking you to a bookstore, taking you to a bar... and that this entity profited by taking you to those places or any other place you wished.

Google would be that entity.

To understand how powerful and pervasive Google is en route to becoming, you have to stop thinking of it as a company, and start thinking of it as a sensory system-- a sensory system for a new realm of sensation that gets more and more attractive and compelling every day. In fact, the better the stuff that anyone else creates, the more you'll want to experience it through your new, ever improving sensory system-- which of course makes Google, the owner of your new sensory system, ever more important.

To think of Google as a mega-corporation misses the point; what matters is that Google is a meta-corporation. The more valuable anything on the Web becomes-- the more desirable things there are on the Web--, the more valuable that Google-- your new Friendly and Benevolent and Very PR-Savvy Government-- becomes.
posted by darth_tedious at 1:58 PM on December 24, 2009 [13 favorites]


The whole "frog in a boiling pot of water" myth certainly comes to mind here.

I'm glad she stood up for her principles. The impression I get is that, with one private lawsuit, Google has become the de facto RIAA for publications.

I'll be curious to see how this situation is viewed by other, smaller operations that archive public domain works, like Project Gutenberg.
posted by FormlessOne at 2:04 PM on December 24, 2009


Oh, come on. I have difficulty believing that this is really nonsensical to you. He or she is saying something along the lines that a thing which cannot be possessed can't be property. It might be difficult to come up with a hard-line definition to distinguish them but it most certainly does make sense to say that some things are really property and some things can't be property or are somehow virtual property, and that IP falls into the latter category.

No, it still doesn't make sense. Consider a copyrighted manuscript and a blank book. Both are protected by property rights, rights to exclude. The copyright protection is an artificial legal fiction, as is the property right in the blank book. In a state of nature, with no laws, one could protect the blank book by force (by say, shooting anyone who tried to steal it). But one could also protect the copyrighted work by force (by say, shooting anyone who copied it).

The only meaningful distinction between intellectual property rights and rights in physical property is that IP is non-rival and physical property is not. As a result, from a legal point of view, there are good policy reasons to treat them somewhat differently, but there is no legal necessity to do so (e.g., IP rights could be perpetual, at least in theory).
posted by jedicus at 2:05 PM on December 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


But one could also protect the copyrighted work by force (by say, shooting anyone who copied read it).

Fixed that for you.
posted by MikeKD at 2:14 PM on December 24, 2009


I'll bet you wouldn't have much luck reading things that were written during the first thirty or forty years after writing was invented, though.

Yeah, and if you're connecting the first forty years of written language with the first forty years of electronic media, I agree: It's foolish to bet that anything from this early on is going to be of much use down the road, which makes the arguments to move things we'd like to see preserved to far-from-settled media and formats pretty short-sighted.
posted by Amanojaku at 2:15 PM on December 24, 2009


I should be allowed to draw as much as I want from the public domain without ever having to contribute to it.

Also I should be allowed to enjoy the benefits of civil society without ever paying a dime in taxes.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:17 PM on December 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


I don't see that Google has a monopoly here. If Microsoft decided to scan all the books, they'd need to negotiate with the Authors Guild as well. I don't buy the objection that Google is evil or has a monopoly because they got there first: that's assuming that the Guild would be unwilling to make the same deal with some other entity in the future, which you can't possibly know right now.

Also, it seems to me that if an author is this paranoid about her rights that signing them over the publishers in the first place was a major oversight on her part. Read the fine print and assume the worst.
posted by jewzilla at 2:18 PM on December 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Writing is going to destroy storytelling. Movable type is going to destroy calligraphy. Microfilm is going to destroy periodicals. Photocopiers are going to destroy books. Computers are going to destroy libraries. The Internet is going to destroy authors' livelihoods. Some yes, much no.

When copyright laws in the US were set at their original short length, lives were of a corresponding short length. People live longer now, makes sense to have longer copyrights.
posted by eccnineten at 2:25 PM on December 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


Google has become the de facto RIAA for publications.

So, wait let me get this straight: this agreement lets Google take a huge cut of future revenues and unilaterally sue copyright infringers on behalf of the creator? That's pretty crazy.
posted by Skorgu at 2:26 PM on December 24, 2009


By the way, here's the Google Book Settlement documentation. All legalese, as far as I can tell, but there you are. Apparently making this go away cost Google at least 15 million dollars.
posted by koeselitz at 2:41 PM on December 24, 2009


I'm of the camp where I can see how Google having a choke-hold on the internet may be a bad thing, but I simply don't care. They're powerful and useful. They're Mephistopheles, and I'm Faust. Have my soul later, but give me that access now.
posted by codacorolla at 2:43 PM on December 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


And why the scare quotes around collectively owned culture?

Because: It's not just geeks being jerks, it's that they are wrapping themselves in a self-righteous mantle and demanding that society be reorganized for their benefit. Techno-optimism isn't just romantic utopianism, it has an agenda: they're bringing us freedom, so we should give them control. I like how Overcoming Bias put it in Meh Transhumanism:
We should get government off their backs, celebrate their genius, and maybe sleep with them once in a while. Those old pesky problems of war, environment, jealosy, etc. will be swept away in a tsunami of new tech changing all.
posted by AlsoMike at 2:52 PM on December 24, 2009 [9 favorites]


"opt-in" leaves hundreds of thousands of volumes basically in limbo, where no one can access them because the author are long dead and the estates long since settled. This is a key point.

I did some family history research using Google, and found a number of documents and old books that seemed to have valuable information. But I couldn't get access to the books. I would gladly buy them, but they are not for sale anywhere. Because Google can't find the author or publisher, Google won't show nor sell you the book, nor even provide a link where you can get it.

This agreement provides a way for Google to actually get the books to the public. The money goes to the publisher or author, or to a fund if neither can be found, or if it is in the public domain it is free.

How can this be bad for authors? If you are an active author, it is easy enough to opt out. If you have long forgotten your book, maybe some charming tale not published for decades, and long forgotten to history, you might be surprised when a check from Google arrives because some community has rediscovered it and people are paying to download it.

Google has power? How? Because they've spent the effort to scan all this knowledge and creativity into their servers? There is nothing stopping anyone else from doing the same. In fact several organizations have, but they wanted to charge the public outrageous amounts for access.

I think this is wonderful, and researchers, the public, and authors will benefit.
posted by eye of newt at 3:01 PM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Disney used to be all about making amazing animated movies and McDonald's was originally just a couple of brothers who wanted to make good burgers. Corporations always change for the evil. I trust the Google of today well enough, but not the Google fifty years from now, and ceding power to the former is ceding power to the latter.
posted by painquale at 3:02 PM on December 24, 2009 [5 favorites]


It's pretty cool that we live in times where great Science Fictions authors can seem out of touch with now.
posted by srboisvert at 3:04 PM on December 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


Speaking of Doctorow and Le Guin...
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 3:07 PM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


AlsoMike" "Because:"
...
The open source movement is open, yes, but only to programmers. Many closed-source, proprietary, profit-driven companies are more open to non-programmers -- they actually listen to their users -- than many open source projects, which are exclusive clubs run for the benefit of programmers. The commonplace phrases "RTFM" and "scratch your own itch" are evidence of that.


Yes, embarassingly, only programmers benefit from open source software. If you can't program, you're not allowed to use any of the underlying systems which were created with open source. In fact there will be a quiz on data structures and algorithms at the end of this thread, if you don't pass you will not be allowed to visit LAMP-driven web sites or look at images edited with GIMP. There was once talk of a standardized, permissive license for copyrighted works that all could share, but the programmers' cabal crushed it with their pasty fists.
posted by mullingitover at 3:11 PM on December 24, 2009 [6 favorites]


I'd actually like to know what our resident library expert jessamyn might say about this. In a recent thread she made this interesting comment about Google's agreements with libraries, and how they seemed to her to be a bit sneaky and unfair. I can see her point, frankly; I'm not as connected to library work as she is, obviously, but I worked in libraries for a number of years in the past, and I have to say that I have never seen any real benefit that libraries have gotten from their agreements with Google. It seems pretty clear to me that Google made these agreements pretty quietly in order to have a good amount of leverage when they got called out by the publishers - and, of course, they did.
posted by koeselitz at 3:13 PM on December 24, 2009


darth_tedious, I think I get it: Microsoft are the Goa'uld but Google are the Ori. This leaves me wondering which company plays Anubis. /stargate
posted by localroger at 3:19 PM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


an elite class of technologists and their VC-backed startups who crashed the whole economy once already.

Um, you're confusing the Dotcom Bubble with dotcoms. The bubble was an effect of the financial system, and we see nearly identical bubbles inflating and bursting around other areas of industry. Dotcoms were merely the excuse for that particular bubble, not the fault of the dotcom entrepreneurs who both profited and lost due to it.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:34 PM on December 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


jedicus: This is flatly wrong. Copyright is and was intended to confer a right to exclude, which is by definition a property right.

Not really. Copyright is a conferred monopoly on the production of a given work of art. The whole point of it, as stated in the Constitution, is to increase the universe of collectively-owned knowledge, with the specific carrot of letting authors make money for some period of time. The whole idea is that as soon as you've created it, EVERYONE owns it, but then you get to charge rent until the copyright term expires.

If anything, it's an anti-property right.
posted by Malor at 3:35 PM on December 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


All the fancy talk of democratization and decentralization and empowerment conceals the fact that the infrastructure that provides these benefits is controlled by an elite class of technologists and their VC-backed startups who crashed the whole economy once already.

really? and here i though it was investment bankers, mortgage lenders and real estate brokers who had crashed it

next thing you'll be telling us that we're having a health care crisis because the coders didn't make our power bars long enough
posted by pyramid termite at 3:38 PM on December 24, 2009


Another way of putting that comment: if copyright were really property, you would never lose it. The fact that it will inevitably pass into the public domain means that you NEVER owned it, you just get to extract the rental profits for a limited period of time.... although, of course, those time limits have been extended to a pretty ridiculous degree.
posted by Malor at 3:41 PM on December 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


Not really. Copyright is a conferred monopoly on the production of a given work of art. The whole point of it, as stated in the Constitution, is to increase the universe of collectively-owned knowledge, with the specific carrot of letting authors make money for some period of time. The whole idea is that as soon as you've created it, EVERYONE owns it, but then you get to charge rent until the copyright term expires. If anything, it's an anti-property right.

Yes, really. Copyright is the right to exclude, which is a property right. Yes, many copyright holders use this to extract money from sales or licenses, but many do not (e.g., open source projects which use copyright to enforce the GPL but do not necessarily seek monetary compensation). If the point were simply to use money as an incentive, then that could be accomplished by paying authors and inventors directly. The property rights approach is broader and more flexible.

The example of patents provides a clearer example than copyright, perhaps, but as they both flow from the same clause of the Constitution, it's clear that the theory is the same. Consider some as-yet-undiscovered invention, perhaps a mousetrap. Before it is invented, it is part of the public domain in the sense that anyone who invented it would be free to use it. After it is invented, it is still part of the public domain. It is the grant of the exclusive property right--the patent--that removes it from the public domain for a limited time.

Call it a monopoly and rent instead of property and licensing fees if you like, but it functions as--and by statute indeed is--a property right. If it quacks like a duck, etc.

if copyright were really property, you would never lose it

Then what about trademarks and trade secrets? Those are kinds of intellectual property that need never expire. Are those real property in a way that patents and copyright are not? Temporal limitation isn't really a defining characteristic of intellectual property.
posted by jedicus at 4:07 PM on December 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is one of those things where, if you don't think about it too much, it seems like a great idea. And really, deep at the core of this is a good idea: having some way of making long out-of-print books more accessible (at least searchable) than they are now (which is basically not at all).

The "Mickey Mouse" copyright extension (Sonny Bono act) is certainly a problem but the bigger issue, I think, was the major revamp of copyright law with the 1976 act. Among the other things this did was change the copyright term to 28+28 (28 years from publication plus a 28 year extension, if requested by the copyright owner) to the lifetime of the author plus fifty years.

What was important about the old way was that it required an overt act on the copyright owner's part to get that extension, which meant that there would be an updated record of 1) who owns the copyright and 2) some way of getting in contact with them. While it's certainly possible to lose track of a copyright owner during either of those 28 year periods, I'd be willing to bet that it was a lot easier to find the right person than under the current system.

The fact is that there are a huge number of 'orphaned' works that are under copyright for some ridiculous number of years. These are 'orphaned' works because they're no longer available in print or a digital form and the copyright owner simply can't be found to authorize any new use.

Now, there's a reason that most of these things are no longer available; they don't have a significant market appeal and for most publishers and booksellers it doesn't make economic sense to print or carry a new edition. Literary classics, of course, generally don't have this problem.

These days, however, there are ways of making these books available without requiring a significant print run or shelf space, either by making them available as print-on-demand or in a digital form. The problem is that it's hard to even find out that these books exist. I personally have a list of about a dozen books that are long out of print and that I've never seen offered for sale anywhere, that I made from citations from other books I've read. Undoubtedly there are even more books that I'd be interested in that I don't even know exist.

So with that said, I'm definitely in favor of some sort of reform for the copyright system. But I don't believe that this settlement with Google is the right way at all*. It basically seems to defy the copyright laws (whatever your feelings about them) just so that Google can monetize this. The settlement effectively gives Google a free pass to infringe the copyrights of anyone who doesn't opt out. (I think that any sort of real solution to the orphaned works problem would have to be an opt-out one, because the ones who would opt-in are likely to be the ones who were already contactable about the copyright of a work.) I'd be much happier with someone like the Library of Congress running something like this; it'd at least have the advantage of being an unquestionably public benefit and not something subject to the whims of a private company. Just because lots of people think today that Google is a great company and can do no wrong doesn't mean this will always be the case; in ten or fifteen years, who can say what it will be like? Will they have decided that the storage and bandwidth costs for something like Google books are too high and shut it down? Sell it off to another company, who starts charging for access? Or keeping it in-house but charging for access? The Google we know today may have no resemblance at all to the Google of the future.

* I don't deny that Google Books is a very well-designed thing and that it's let me find a ton of public-domain books that I probably wouldn't have found any other way. And I'll keep using because it is still a valuable research tool.
posted by Godbert at 4:13 PM on December 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Dotcom Bubble was mainly about people who couldn't code their way out of a paper bag discovering the visionary power of cocaine at the time when there was lots of money floating about and no one with any sense paying attention to where it was going.
posted by Artw at 4:25 PM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Temporal limitation isn't really a defining characteristic of intellectual property.

And I should add that temporal non-limitation isn't really a defining characteristic of classic property rights, either. Consider the life estate, for example. Would you really argue that people who have a life estate in a piece of property do not have a property interest in it?
posted by jedicus at 4:27 PM on December 24, 2009


The Author Guild's response to Ursula Le Guin.
posted by eye of newt at 4:39 PM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Lathe of Heaven....my pick for best SF novel....ever....
posted by gigbutt at 4:42 PM on December 24, 2009


jedicus: all you have to is read the actual Constitution, and the enumerated powers of Congress, to wit:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

It's quite clear that the original formulation is that nobody owns an idea, but in exchange for coming up with it, you can charge rent for awhile. It's not a property right. And the entire purpose of copyright is not to enrich the authors, but rather to enrich the public. The limited times clause is the carrot to cause new things to be created, both in the sense of the temporary monopoly AND in the sense of removing that monopoly, so that you eventually have to come up with something new to keep paying the bills.

It strikes me that Google's opt-out approach is exactly correspondent with the original intent of the copyright laws. The Writings and Discoveries belong to everyone; you can limit their spread if you wish, for some period of time, by proactively taking measures to stop it. Otherwise, it defaults to being everyone's. It's not property; as an author, your rights are very limited. This a designed-in feature, not a bug.

If you really owned it, your rights would never expire. You don't; you just get a temporary license.

Trademarks and trade secrets are entirely different animals. They're not in the Constitution; they're creations of ordinary law. It's pretty clear that a trademark isn't the same as copyright, because you can easily lose a trademark simply by not actively telling people they can't use it. If that's property, that's pretty goddamn weak. I don't know a lot about trade secret law, but as far as I know, once it's been exposed, it's not a secret anymore; I think you can sue someone for the exposure, but once it's no longer a secret, you have no ability to stop people from using it. So that's an even weaker example of these supposed 'property' rights.

It's also pretty clear that life estates are a subset of property rights; they explicitly expire when you die, which explicitly makes them less binding than real property rights. After you die, the REAL owner gets it back. THEY are the owners of the property; you're simply renting more of the rights than you typically get as a tenant.
posted by Malor at 4:53 PM on December 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


Before it turned out that Lawrence Lessig was the George Washington of copyright reform, that is, a beloved, cared-for figure who, if you look up the facts, turns out to have been incompetent and kicked upstairs at critical junctures....

...wasn't this the great idea that he was pushing for some time, that the copyright law would be modified so that if you didn't file every 10 years or so, you'd lose your copyright?
posted by jscott at 5:12 PM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


"The open source movement is open, yes, but only to programmers. Many closed-source, proprietary, profit-driven companies are more open to non-programmers -- they actually listen to their users -- than many open source projects, which are exclusive clubs run for the benefit of programmers. The commonplace phrases 'RTFM' and 'scratch your own itch' are evidence of that. "

This is bullshit. Besides programmers open source is open to everyone that has access to software from "closed-source, proprietary, profit-driven companies" and in exactly the same way: via Money. Sure you might have to find a programmer willing to take your money but at least that's an option. Many closed-source, proprietary, profit-driven companies won't even talk to you and then what do you do; start from scratch? One minor example: Good luck convincing MS to use the vastly superior, IMHO, word perfect table layout even if you were to hand them buckets of cash.
posted by Mitheral at 5:46 PM on December 24, 2009


>... demagogues who MUST. MOVE. TO. NEW. FORMAT. NOW. is a greater danger to our cultural storehouses than books literally falling to dust before we can reissue them.

You do realize that much of the stuff in question is ON those newfangled formats, right? The ability to copy that stuff is essential to safeguarding our culture. Look at the work folks like jscott et al. are doing.

>This is false. Copyright was extended from 28 years to 56 years in the early 20th century without any involvement from "corporate interests."

Who do you think decided there was suddenly a need for longer copyrights? The music publishing industry, of course.

>The only meaningful distinction between intellectual property rights and rights in physical property is that IP is non-rival and physical property is not.

That's a pretty frakin' huge difference.

>I should be allowed to draw as much as I want from the public domain without ever having to contribute to it.

You are. That's rather the point of it. In fact, that's why it's worth encouraging more of it. We seem to have forgotten that.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:06 PM on December 24, 2009


And why the scare quotes around collectively owned culture?

Can't say for sure why AlsoMike added the quotes (scary or otherwise) but here's my guess...

Wikipedia: "The Tyranny of Structurelessness" is an influential essay by American feminist Jo Freeman inspired by her experiences in the 1970s women's liberation movement concerning power relations within radical feminist collectives. As Hilary Wainwright wrote in Zmag, Freeman described how "this apparent lack of structure too often disguised an informal, unacknowledged and unaccountable leadership that was all the more pernicious because its very existence was denied."

The Tyranny of Structurelessness via Jo Freeman.
The Tyranny of Structurelessness via the Bureau of Public Secrets.
posted by eccnineten at 6:08 PM on December 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


"Metafilters contempt for artists who dare to suggest they might want to make money rears it's ugly head..."

And Artw's contempt for Metafilterers who dare to suggest that Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution should mean what it says, rather than what would maximize profits primarily for large multinational corporations rears its ugly head...
posted by markkraft at 6:34 PM on December 24, 2009


Anything that pisses off Cory Doctorow is jake with me.
posted by Ratio at 6:57 PM on December 24, 2009


I once heard Cory Doctorow say that Ratio being captured by Reavers would really piss him off.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:02 PM on December 24, 2009


I once heard Cory Doctorow say that Ratio being captured by Reavers would really piss him off.

I can't find the reference. Did Xeni unpublish it?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:05 PM on December 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is bullshit. Besides programmers open source is open to everyone that has access to software from "closed-source, proprietary, profit-driven companies" and in exactly the same way: via Money.

You don't even have to have money, just time and a willingness to write down the steps it took you to reach a problem state. Every project worth contributing to has a way for users to submit bugs.
posted by nomisxid at 7:27 PM on December 24, 2009


"this apparent lack of structure too often disguised an informal, unacknowledged and unaccountable leadership that was all the more pernicious because its very existence was denied."


Inspiration for LeGuin's The Dispossessed?
posted by Jimmy Havok at 7:58 PM on December 24, 2009


You're honestly making this argument? The Eric Schmidt argument? "Google isn't doing anything bad with all of your personal information, copyright privileges to all your books and media, control over chunks of the distributed DNS, and half of the internet itself." So you're actually arguing that this is a "good" corporation that we can trust - unlike those bad corporations like Microsoft that we can't trust?

We aren't talking about private information. That's irrelevant to this discussion. We are talking about things people had published. And yes, once you own a book you can do whatever you want to with it: Scan it and put it on a hard drive if you want to. You own it. Presumably Google owns the books that it's scanning, or it's borrowing them from someone.

So what's the problem? It's not even a violation of copyright law to do this.

It has nothing to do with Google being a "good company" I wouldn't care if it was Microsoft, or Halliburton, or whoever. The argument is the same: It's not a violation of copyright to scan a book and store the resulting file. I never said anything about this being OK because Google was a "good" company. My only point was that it's not a violation of copyright to scan books. I didn't see you complaining about Fake's DIY book scanner.

Again, I certainly disagree with Eric Schmidt privacy quote, but that is irrelevant to the discussion. We are talking about material people had published, not private information. (Also I doubt Bing is any better when it comes to privacy and the government)

(And by the way, I would prefer that the archive be open to the public, not all in Google's hands. It's a bit silly that Google should 'own' this just because they scanned all the books.)
Yes, really. Copyright is the right to exclude, which is a property right.
The right to exclude people from publishing your work without permission. It's not the right to prevent people from reading the work. Originally, this was simple. If you owned a printing press, you couldn't go and just print up anyone's books and sell it. It wasn't a right to exclude people from reading it. Anyone could borrow a friends copy or buy a used copy.

Copyright is not a right over the the work, otherwise it would be illegal to sell used copies of books or run libraries. Copyright is a right over publishing the work.

The problem now is that in order to read on a digital device, you have to make a copy (say, from RAM to the screen). Copyright obsessive make the argument that even that copy is something that falls under copyright and can be controlled.

If you want to say you have a 'property right' that's fine, but the property is the patent or the copyright itself, not "the work" just the rights to determine who can and can't copy it for a limited time.

Just like a transferable lease agreement. If you rent an apartment, you don't own the apartment. But you own the lease to the apartment, the contract that grants you the right to stay there. When you have a copyright, you own the copyright, that grants you the right to publish your work. But you don't own the work any more then a renter owns an apartment.
Then what about trademarks and trade secrets? Those are kinds of intellectual property that need never expire. Are those real property in a way that patents and copyright are not? Temporal limitation isn't really a defining characteristic of intellectual property.
And they have nothing to do with this discussion, either!
posted by delmoi at 8:25 PM on December 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's quite clear that the original formulation is that nobody owns an idea, but in exchange for coming up with it, you can charge rent for awhile.

Actually that's not clear at all. It says '[the authors' and inventors'] respective Writings and Discoveries' not 'the public's Writings and Discoveries.' If the idea is not owned by the authors or inventors, then suggest it with the possessive? There's also nothing in there about 'charging rent,' but rather an 'exclusive right,' which is practically the definition of property.

I think part of the problem here is that you're arguing from an ad hoc understanding of the Constitution, property law, and intellectual property law. Within the field, there is a broad consensus that intellectual property is, in fact, property. In the case of patents and copyright, they are personal property by statute as well, so even if you were correct about the Constitution, you're wrong with regard to the law as it exists today and has for decades.

You're viewing things through a lens of 'monopolies' and 'rents' but the law does not speak in those terms, neither the Constitution, nor the Copyright Act, nor the Patent Act, nor the relevant cases, nor the majority of legal scholars.

If you want to say you have a 'property right' that's fine, but the property is the patent or the copyright itself, not "the work" just the rights to determine who can and can't copy it for a limited time.

The 'right to determine who can and can't copy it for a limited time' is a right to exclude others from copying, which is a property right. A property right does not have to include all possible property rights (e.g. the right to exclude people from reading a work). Property rights may be sliced off, carved up, and distributed in both time (e.g. a life estate) and space (e.g. amongst different entities), and they remain property rights.
posted by jedicus at 8:42 PM on December 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


And Artw's contempt for Metafilterers who dare to suggest that Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution should mean what it says, rather than what would maximize profits primarily for large multinational corporations rears its ugly head...

Google Ron Paul!
posted by Artw at 8:52 PM on December 24, 2009


The 'right to determine who can and can't copy it for a limited time' is a right to exclude others from copying, which is a property right. A property right does not have to include all possible property rights (e.g. the right to exclude people from reading a work). Property rights may be sliced off, carved up, and distributed in both time (e.g. a life estate) and space (e.g. amongst different entities), and they remain property rights.

Sure fine. If you want to say people have a property to the legal construct of copyright, that's fine. But it don't mean they have a property right to the underlying work itself. Nothing in copyright makes it illegal to scan books you own, or borrow. Except under the maximalist view of copyright as a right to control even incidental copying such as from a hard drive to memory, or taking a photo of something, or whatever. Copyright also allows for fair use in excerpting things, which is what google is doing.
posted by delmoi at 9:26 PM on December 24, 2009


I trust the Google of today well enough, but not the Google fifty years from now, and ceding power to the former is ceding power to the latter.

Dude, you're gonna harsh Metafilter's mellow! Free your mind, sell your soul!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:36 PM on December 24, 2009


It's a sign of Google's tremendously successful scheme of marketing by blanket immersion that absolutely no one seems to see anything wrong with this except the people who've been forced to see it because they're caught up in it - like Ursula K. LeGuin. It's easy to feel as though Google is a nice, friendly, slumbering giant - it's been such a tremendously benign part of our lives for so long that it's natural for all of us to think that way. So of course we simply don't notice or care at all when the CEO of Google says something like:
"If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place. If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines -- including Google -- do retain this information for some time… it's important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities."

I'm not going to argue the general corporate power thing. But I do take issue with the way that quote has been taken totally out of context. Not only by you, but by everybody discussing it.

He was talking about privacy online. And in the online world, it is true that if you want something well and truly private, you shouldn't be doing it. It's not only google that will cache the information, but also (maybe) the website, the Internet Archive, or Bubba (by pressing print-screen). It's one of the fundamental Laws of Cyberspace: that which you do is recorded.

He wasn't saying, "I don't believe privacy is important. And if you have nothing to hide, you have no reason to refuse a search." He was saying, "You'd be stupid to believe that privacy exists in this context." Which is a statement of fact, not of intent or opinion. It was genuine advice.

The quote could just as easily have said, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't write it down. Because that would be stupid, since somebody could find your diary."
posted by Netzapper at 9:41 PM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sure fine. If you want to say people have a property to the legal construct of copyright, that's fine. But it don't mean they have a property right to the underlying work itself.

If I ever did, it was unintentional. I may have used the shorthand 'copyright in a work' or 'exclusive right to a work' but that's just to avoid repeating the laundry list of things that copyright gives the exclusive right to, which is quite long and depends on the kind of work in question (for example, limited moral rights in original works of visual art).
posted by jedicus at 9:57 PM on December 24, 2009


And Metafilters contempt for artists who dare to suggest they might want to make money rears it's ugly head...

Where is there any contempt expressed for creators who want to make some money off their labot? There is disagreement over copyright law. Quite provocative to conflate the two but something less than honest.
posted by BigSky at 10:19 PM on December 24, 2009


Actually that's not clear at all. It says '[the authors' and inventors'] respective Writings and Discoveries' not 'the public's Writings and Discoveries.' If the idea is not owned by the authors or inventors, then suggest it with the possessive?

Because that's the only compact way to express the idea that a writer gets limited exclusive rights to the works that he or she has produced, and not to any others. And the fact that they explicitly enumerate the power to grant that exclusive right means that they didn't think it was naturally there.

And, of course, you're completely ignoring the reason WHY that clause exists... to promote the progress of science and art. The key driver is NOT author benefit, it's PUBLIC benefit, with temporary author benefit being the carrot to get to the real goal.

That's why patents work the way they do; to get patent protection on something, you have to fully disclose the method by which it works, and you then get 17 years to exploit it. At that point, all rights revert to the public. If you want to keep it longer than 17 years, you can try to via the much weaker 'trade secret' laws, but as far as I know, if the secret ever escapes your control, or if anyone else invents it independently, you have no recourse.

I mean, think about that a little. If they REALLY thought you owned what you invented, then a trade secret should be 'property', and should be yours forever until you decide to dispose of it. But that's not how it works. If someone else comes up with your secret idea, too bad. If someone spreads your secret idea, you can attack the person in court for violation of contract, and you have some redress available if the knowledge hasn't been disseminated widely yet, but if it has, you're shit out of luck.

And there's a reason for that: you do NOT own your ideas. In exchange for sharing your ideas with the world, you get a temporary exclusive license granted by law. If you don't share, you get very little legal protection.

The 'right to determine who can and can't copy it for a limited time' is a right to exclude others from copying, which is a property right

Clearly, the public owns the items in question, because ownership reverts to the public after copyright is over. When you hold copyright, you are a renter, not an owner; you are renting back certain specific rights that the public holds; the cost to you was the creation of the work. Once your term of rental is over, all rights revert to the true owner.
posted by Malor at 10:41 PM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Quite provocative to conflate the two but something less than honest.

I disagree with Artw over a lot of stuff, but on this point he is 100% correct.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:57 PM on December 24, 2009


But I do take issue with the way that quote has been taken totally out of context. Not only by you, but by everybody discussing it.

It's hardly out of context. Google's whole existence as an ad machine would evaporate if there were any semblance of real privacy law in this country. Its CEO recognizes and embraces the transparency of online activities because its whole business model is predicated upon it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:00 PM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well... sure sounds like LeGuin should opt out then, doesn't it?!
posted by markkraft at 11:04 PM on December 24, 2009


Blazecock: That's bullshit. Schmidt recognizes and embraces the transparency of online activities because that is their very nature.

His stance is that if you don't want Google to know something (and be subject to subpoena for it), don't fucking tell them in the first place. You don't have to use Google, you don't have to let your computer talk to their servers, run their scripts, or download their ads. Stop knocking on their door if you don't want them to know you exist!

Of course all of that is the easy part. What's hard is the behavioral shift to stop using the search box as your most intimate confidant, as a billion people presently do. People confess their sins to Google thousands of times per second, just look at the Google Suggest completions for generic Who/What/Where/Why/How queries.


To put the Schmidt quote in context: If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be Googling it.
posted by blasdelf at 11:47 PM on December 24, 2009


It's hardly out of context. Google's whole existence as an ad machine would evaporate if there were any semblance of real privacy law in this country. Its CEO recognizes and embraces the transparency of online activities because its whole business model is predicated upon it.

I don't understand what google uses that privacy law would protect.

The way I see it, google has a couple of sources of data from me personally that are used to target ads:

1) My web searches.

They're only remembering what I ask them. If I call up my encyclopedic friend every day and ask a half-dozen questions, there's no reason that he shouldn't be allowed to write down what I ask. I initiated that contact. I asked the questions. Any privacy law that makes it unlawful to remember previous conversations, or to keep notes on them, is asinine.

Similarly, plenty of businesses remember what I've purchased in the past so that they can recommend services in the future. This hardly seems like an invasion of privacy to me. Are you mad when your butcher remembers your inquiry last year and tells you that they just got some venison in stock?

2) Things I publish to the web.

The term "publish" is vital here. The web is ultimately a publishing platform. It was designed to make it easy to make data available to anybody and everybody who asks for it. And it isn't like google is out there cracking HTTP AUTH (or stronger access control), so it's still possible to build an unindexed, private website.

I actually made a mistake above with my diary analogy. Putting a post on the web is nothing like a diary. It's like posting it on the community bulletin board, or writing a letter to the newspaper. It's intrinsically public. That's the fucking point.

From a site-owner's perspective, for a site to display AdSense targeted ads, they have to opt-in and manually insert the ads into their layout. That's a service provided to the web site operator(s), since otherwise they'd have to personally go out and sell their ad space--to their disadvantage, as I understand it.

3) My email (as I use gmail).

Now this one, perhaps, I can understand the privacy-invasion argument. But, again, this is an opt-in service. In return for 7GB of storage with the best email interface I've ever met, I let google's machines read my email so that they can try to sell me software engineering tools.

The real privacy implications aren't any worse than most people's email solutions. Verizon has just as much access to your @verizon.net email as google does go my @gmail.com email. The only way to have secure storage of your email is to host it yourself. Which I did for a very long time, before the cost and annoyance of maintaining my own server became more than I cared to invest.

You also have the option of encrypting everything important. Which you should be doing anyway, since your email is traveling through dozens of hops on its way to its destination. Maybe they do, but I somehow doubt google has an RSA-breaking machine.

Google isn't invading my privacy any more than any other entity with which I conduct business. It's not like google employees are ransacking my home, or stopping me on the street and demanding I turn out my pockets. And so far as I can tell, they cooperate with government and law enforcement only when compelled to do so. And cooperating with the fuzz is hardly a plank of their business model.
posted by Netzapper at 11:47 PM on December 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


You don't have to use Google, you don't have to let your computer talk to their servers, run their scripts, or download their ads. Stop knocking on their door if you don't want them to know you exist!

The danger here, of course, is that Google is positioning itself (*) as the gatekeeper of a lot of digital material — our cultural library that so many on Metafilter seem fit to redistribute for free, it should be said — such that the adage "You don't have to use Google" may one day limit the privacy conscious to the very periphery of the Internet, which could one day easily be proscribed activity. Written content is only one part of a larger strategy, here.

Perhaps Google seems innocuous enough now, outside of China, but many of you seem fit to place a hell of a lot of trust in just another corporation whose CEO does not value privacy one iota. Indeed, for him to become a proponent of privacy rights would cause one of two things to occur: his immediate firing, or GOOG's value to drop through the basement. Or perhaps both, once people's brains put together the larger picture.

(*) By force of law, not by consent of creative people.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:02 AM on December 25, 2009


Artw: "And Metafilters contempt for artists who dare to suggest they might want to make money rears it's ugly head..."

Yes, getting access to the nintey-something percent of works which are out of print and would otherwise never sell a single copy or even be viewed by human eyes has nothing to do with this, it's all out of contempt for those lazy artists. You sure have Metafilter's number.

posted by mullingitover

This.

(all rights reserved)
posted by tehloki at 12:03 AM on December 25, 2009


The original terms of copyright in the United States, had they not been repeatedly extended for the sake of corporate interests, was 28 years at most.

And the original terms of slavery in the United States were that PEOPLE COULD OWN SLAVES. Shit changes, and no mater how many "corporate interests" bogeymen you wave around, copyright protects every individual who creates something. Pretending every struggling artist is the Walt Disney Corporation is so far beyond disingenuous that it's hard to even think of a word for it.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:55 AM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


How about opt-in, with short copyright terms that can be renewed, provided the rights-holdesr take a positive step to do so? (Like domain name registration; you don't renew, you lose it). Say 20 years, renewable for another 20.

How about you write me a note every 15 minutes saying you don't want me to come in your house and wipe my ass on your carpet? Come on, all you have to do is take a "positive step!" What could be more fair?
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:00 AM on December 25, 2009


I have to say that this seems to me to be pretty much a derailed thread at this point. This has very little to do with copyright, which Le Guin mentions briefly as one element amongst a host, and a whole lot to do with control of media. Copyright law doesn't even have terms to discuss these issues yet, and while it's nice that everybody here can have the "can I download stuff?" argument one more time, I suspect we're ignoring whole chunks of the real issue at hand.

Enough about copyright, eh?
posted by koeselitz at 1:00 AM on December 25, 2009


Blazecock, note that this is just a settlement, an agreement between Google and the Writer's Guild. As far as I can see from the overview, it doesn't have the force of law, and doesn't create any legal monopolies like ASCAP. It'll create a defacto one, but without the legal power to compel copyright holders who aren't involved in the system; if you don't want to be represented by the revenue-collection body, they'll have no standing to extract the revenue for your media. (this is not true of ASCAP and BMI -- if I understand the law correctly, they can charge YOU YOURSELF for performance royalties for music YOU WROTE, and hold the copyright to. I kid you not.)

Should the arrangement become abusive at some later time, there's plenty of room to fix it. Worst case, Congress could step in and change these rules as needed.

At present, it doesn't appear to be a losing proposition for anyone involved, and we're not locking ourselves into this precise arrangement forever, so I don't think it's too much of an issue.

It could turn into a problem if the oversight agency ends up getting ASCAP-style rules passed by Congress, but that's a risk no matter what, even without this specific agreement.
posted by Malor at 1:02 AM on December 25, 2009


It'll create a defacto one

Copyright easements are being installed without prior consent. I think a large part of why people are putting their blinders on is because Google is doing it, and it amazes me that people refuse to draw the very obvious connections between, say, Disney manipulating the legal system to further their own bottom line, and Google doing the very same thing to accomplish the same profitable end.

I think the few artists who are pointing out that this is problematic have legitimate causes for concern. I think ignoring that Google is first and foremost a business entity will come back to haunt society for a long, long time. I think politicians are getting a better deal for selling their souls to lobbyists, than the people here who are eager to sell their privacy and other rights to Google etc. in exchange for free shit — the operative word being "shit", since 99% of content is garbage that few ever come back to — and who feel entitled to sell creative people up the river, in the bargain.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:23 AM on December 25, 2009


He was talking about privacy online. And in the online world, it is true that if you want something well and truly private, you shouldn't be doing it. It's not only google that will cache the information, but also (maybe) the website, the Internet Archive, or Bubba (by pressing print-screen). It's one of the fundamental Laws of Cyberspace: that which you do is recorded.

Uh, the internet archive will only record things that you put on the web for the wide world to see and unprotected by something a simple as a robots.txt file asking people not to record it. With google you have it storing 1) all your email (using gmail) 2) all your search history 3) all your instant message chats by default and so on. There's no particular reason why those should be recorded and stored -- at least in an unencrypted form that anyone but the intended recipient can read.

In other words, yes "everything you do gets recorded" but only because of attitudes like Schmidt's, that says we might as well record everything people do because we can use that data to make ourselves rich!
Blazecock: That's bullshit. Schmidt recognizes and embraces the transparency of online activities because that is their very nature.
What does that even mean? It's entirely possible to have completely private online communications. Where does this idea come from that online activities must be public? Sure, if you want blog to everyone, that's not private. But you can certainly email, chat, share files, etc privately so long as you don't use 'cloud based' system like Gmail. If you store the data on your own machine, and use encryption to transfer it, you're good. So long as neither you nor your friends computer is hacked.
I don't understand what google uses that privacy law would protect.

The way I see it, google has a couple of sources of data from me personally that are used to target ads:
Well, privacy law could mandate 1) that search history and browsing behavior not be used to pick ads for people to see and 2) that people's emails and private communications not be used to pick ads for people to see. Obviously stuff you publish to the web should be open for everyone to index, but 1 and 2 are important parts of google's ad business.
posted by delmoi at 1:26 AM on December 25, 2009


Copyright easements are being installed without prior consent. I think a large part of why people are putting their blinders on is because Google is doing it, and it amazes me that people refuse to draw the very obvious connections between, say, Disney manipulating the legal system to further their own bottom line, and Google doing the very same thing to accomplish the same profitable end.



There's a pretty big difference between what Google and Disney are doing. One is trying to change the law in a good way, the other in a bad way. The same as google/Microsoft/ and other companies fought to keep net neutrality, while AT&T and verizon fought to take it away. One side was good, the other bad.

Or look at the difference between lobbying by oil companies and lobbying by sustainable energy companies. Big difference.
posted by delmoi at 1:29 AM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


the difference between lobbying by oil companies and lobbying by sustainable energy companies

To extend the analogy, today's sustainable energy company may likely be tomorrow's oil company. Both are still gaming the system — today — at the individual's expense, by usurping the democratic process.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:49 AM on December 25, 2009


Uh, the internet archive will only record things that you put on the web for the wide world to see and unprotected by something a simple as a robots.txt file asking people not to record it.

Last I knew, google respects robots.txt. Have they changed their policy there? (And, I should note, it's merely a policy on the part of anybody who does respect it. Internet Archive could decide tomorrow that they'll no longer honor it.)

With google you have it storing 1) all your email (using gmail) 2) all your search history 3) all your instant message chats by default and so on.

Those are all opt-in. The agreement I have with google is that they'll give me awesome email if I let them target ads based on it. Similarly, I get better search results if I log in and let them store my previous searches.

For instance, if I search "horus vision" from my account, I get results for awesome rifle scopes I covet. If I search from my wife's account, I get hand-made body jewelery. If I log out and search, I'm pretty likely to get results related to visions of the god Horus. This is because google knows I like guns, my wife likes body jewelery, and most people searching for 'Horus' want to know about the god.

And I don't use gTalk for most things specifically because I don't want my instant messages logged by anybody but me. Except that I have a couple co-workers and clients who like gTalk, and want to be able to search their history, so I'll use it for non-sensitive discussion with them.

There's no particular reason why those should be recorded and stored -- at least in an unencrypted form that anyone but the intended recipient can read.

Well, except that it lets me search my thousands of old emails, which I use constantly. And, in fact, lets me search my past searches (which I only use occasionally).

I ran my own SMTP server for a long time. I signed up for gmail with the intent of using it as a throwaway account for non-sensitive communication. Turns out, its featureset is so compelling that now I use it for everything. Combined with gpg for encryption, this works really well.

And it's no less secure from unwanted intrusion than any webmail service. [Ideally, we'd all run our own servers at home. But given that most people's eyes glaze over when you start talking about qmail versus sendmail and POP versus IMAP, I think webmail is here to stay.]

Well, privacy law could mandate 1) that search history and browsing behavior not be used to pick ads for people to see and 2) that people's emails and private communications not be used to pick ads for people to see.

Well, yes it could. But why are targeted ads a problem?

The way I see it, I have a "relationship" with google. And it's one they don't abuse. Their targeted ads are unobtrusive. Furthermore, because they're actually about things in which I might be interested, I've been pleased to have seen several of them.

The point at which I have a problem with google storing my email and history is when they disclose it to a third party. If they're selling my email to a clients' competitors, then we have a problem. If they're automatically forwarding every search for "bomb schematics" to the FBI (without a court order of some sort), then we have a problem. If my pornographic picasaweb album is being released to amateur porn sites, then we have a problem.

But as far as I can tell, none of that is happening. Google's computers read my mail, and then try to unobtrusively sell me things I might actually want. Given how excellent their services are, this seems relatively fair.
posted by Netzapper at 1:57 AM on December 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


To extend the analogy, today's sustainable energy company may likely be tomorrow's oil company. Both are still gaming the system — today — at the individual's expense, by usurping the democratic process.

Sure, which is why you have to pay attention. But if you support, say, greenhouse gas emission reduction, then obviously the fact that these companies are lobbying for it is good. When they lobby against you it's bad.

Whether lobbying is good or bad depends on what people are lobbying for.
posted by delmoi at 3:45 AM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


The way I see it, I have a "relationship" with google. And it's one they don't abuse.

As far as you know.

Look, it's fairly obvious that people are willing to give up their privacy without putting much thought into it. Look at all the people who sign up for those stupid games on facebook, for example.

But the problem is that when everyone uses these privacy eating apps, there's less resources out there for apps that don't. Since so many people use gmail, it would be hard for a company to offer secure webmail or a client side email app that worked as well.

And yeah, the average person doesn't know how to setup sendmail, but that doesn't mean that servers need to be so difficult to setup because regular users have grown used to using hosted solutions. But it would be simple to setup a messaging system with very simple to setup server. Look how easy it is to start a bit torrent client (which is also a server for other users) It's point, click, done. Obviously email would be difficult because it's such a messed up technology.

But those things don't exist because there wouldn't be enough users to support development, because most users don't care about privacy.

By not caring about privacy and using privacy eating services those users create an externality that makes it more difficult for people who do care to participate in new technology.

Facebook is the worst by far, there's no reason why a social network needs to be setup to be run by a single central system, but because everyone is on facebook using a p2p style social network won't work because none of your friends will be on it.
posted by delmoi at 3:57 AM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


>How about you write me a note every 15 minutes saying you don't want me to come in your house and wipe my ass on your carpet? Come on, all you have to do is take a "positive step!" What could be more fair?


I suppose I could write you a note telling you not to build a house that looks just like mine and wipe your ass on your carpet, but I don't really care if you do or not.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:42 PM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Whether lobbying is good or bad depends on what people are lobbying for.

How ugly do the means have to get, before we question whether the ends justify the means?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:45 PM on December 25, 2009


Going way back up: jedicus - No, it still doesn't make sense. Consider a copyrighted manuscript and a blank book. Both are protected by property rights, rights to exclude. The copyright protection is an artificial legal fiction, as is the property right in the blank book. In a state of nature, with no laws, one could protect the blank book by force (by say, shooting anyone who tried to steal it). But one could also protect the copyrighted work by force (by say, shooting anyone who copied it).

The only meaningful distinction between intellectual property rights and rights in physical property is that IP is non-rival and physical property is not. As a result, from a legal point of view, there are good policy reasons to treat them somewhat differently, but there is no legal necessity to do so (e.g., IP rights could be perpetual, at least in theory).


But physical property being non-rival is a pretty damn big difference. If in a lawless place someone heard you tell a story and she wrote it down, and you cried "thief!" I'd think that most people would tell you nothing has been taken from you, you still have your story, and there has been no loss of property.

It seems to me that central to the notion of IP is that rather than it being any sort of possession that you can actually lose, everything operates on some potential not coming true - usually that someone didn't make the money they theoretically could have made. It's like a farmer saying that because the fox killed his hen, the fox stole eggs from him. But no - the farmer may have suffered some injury through that act of the fox, but "potential possession of eggs in the future" is not an article of property that was stolen or could be stolen by the fox. (Let's presume that the fox just killed the chicken and the farmer was the one who subsequently ate it, for the sake of analogy.)

I would also think that if IP was actual property in the conventional sense of the word in human history then any theft could be remedied by the thief returning the stolen article. But this is not possible with IP and I would say that it's because IP is a more virtual and less concrete kind of property - less "real" - than something like a gold brick, or even a little piece of paper that confers ownership of a gold brick, or even a piece of paper that represents fiat currency.

IP is an extensive elaboration upon and abstraction of the concept of ownership represented by crying "thief!" when someone takes your wallet and runs away with it in a crowded street, even a crowded street in a lawless place. So I must persist in my skepticism that it genuinely makes no sense to you to for someone to distinguish between physical property and far less concrete and thereby less real forms of property.
posted by XMLicious at 10:51 PM on December 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Weirdly when a website is showing someone elses content we never have these semantic arguments about whether it is acceptable to call something theft, it's just accepted as common parlance.
posted by Artw at 10:56 AM on December 27, 2009


Weirdly when a website is showing someone elses content we never have these semantic arguments about whether it is acceptable to call something theft, it's just accepted as common parlance.

I'm not sure why you're calling it acceptable, since it was quickly corrected. Attribution is a somewhat different animal than copyright, and it's why, for a long while, CC:BY was the lowest restriction license Creative Commons offered.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:21 PM on December 27, 2009


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