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FAA To Free Aircraft Hobbled By IP Laws 106

Posted by kdawson
from the maintain-it-but-we-won't-tell-you-how dept.
smellsofbikes writes "The FAA is attempting to develop a legal process that will allow them to release data about vintage aircraft designs that have obviously been abandoned. Existing laws restrict the FAA's ability to release this data because it is deemed to be intellectual property even though the owner of record has long since ceased to exist. This is fundamentally the same problem that copyright laws impose on people looking for out-of-print books. But in the case of vintage aircraft, the owners are legally required to maintain them to manufacturer specifications that the owners cannot legally obtain: an expensive and potentially lethal dilemma. If the FAA, notoriously hidebound and conservative, is willing to find a solution to this IP Catch-22, maybe the idea will catch on in other places."
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FAA To Free Aircraft Hobbled By IP Laws

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  • Pacific Fighters (Score:5, Informative)

    by Nimey (114278) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @05:34PM (#17939516) Homepage Journal
    Sadly, this will be too late for Oleg Maddox's Pacific Fighters simulation. Northrop Grumman have been bastards and refused to let 1C:Games use models of N-G aircraft and ships without paying a license fee--something that started when Lockheed claimed the F-22 as their intellectual property, never mind that it's been bought and paid for by the US government.

    Results of this include there being no Yorktown-class model in the sim, nor the TBF Avenger, and I think no more American warplanes beyond the ones initially shipped; contrast this to Soviet, German, Italian, and Japanese a/c being added in patches.

    About time, though.
  • by chopper749 (574759) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @05:50PM (#17939768) Journal
    This would apply to commercial airplanes IF the manufacturer is no longer around and no one
    claims rights to the type certificate, AND you have one of the airplanes and need the data to
    maintain it in a safe manner. If you just think it would be cool to see, it wouldn't
    'enhance aviation safety' in anyway to release the details.

    These documents wouldn't be "lost" with out this change. They are part of the Federal Records.
    The type certificates contain all of the drawing and details required to build the aircraft.
    If the company built a plane that didn't meet the type cert, it would not be certified as airworthy.
    This just allows owners of the planes to keep them legally flyable.
  • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @06:01PM (#17939964)
    It seems awfully simple to me, really. If something, whether it be blueprints, books, records or whatnot is not available via the marketplace from any supplier, there seems to be little financial damage done to anyone when someone duplicates 'em.

    Aircraft are a little different, though. You need an exact, verified, updated from the manufacturer copy. You might die otherwise.
  • by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @07:21PM (#17941130) Homepage
    Copyright can NOT involve exchange of money for protection.

    Yes it can, and in fact, it traditionally has.

    When you write something, anything really (that's not immune to copyright such as a recipe), it's copyrighted to you.

    Why should that be true? I think that it would be a bad idea to do that, and again, that's a pretty new idea which has been having a lot of predictably bad results.

    would it be OK for someone to break into my computer and start distributing my private records or love notes without my permission?

    From a perspective of copyright, as opposed to an invasion of privacy? Yes, it would generally be ok. If you could show that you had only recently written them, and that they were copyrightable -- which would exclude many private records, such as birth certificates you didn't write, or ledgers of accounts, which aren't creative as a rule -- and you could show that you were working on getting them published in the near future under the copyright system, then some degree of protection would be appropriate; we don't want people pirating manuscripts, after all. OTOH, if you were not going to publish, then you should not get a copyright. Copyright is meant to encourage authors to create and publish works, and if you weren't going to do that, then why should the incentive be wasted upon you?

    Copyright is not a substitute for privacy laws, and you're making a big mistake if you think otherwise.
  • by MBGMorden (803437) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @07:26PM (#17941190)
    Homebuilders can already make damned close copies (and safe ones at that) of just about any design out there. Indeed there are a bazillion copies of things like the Piper Cub out there flying - the look and flying pretty similar, and they are built using the same types of techniques, but underneath they aren't identical to an original cub (indeed most of the newer "copies" of aircraft like the cub are vastly superior to the original). The thing is that any homebuilt aircraft has to go under the Experimental-Homebuilt certification. While this entails a lot of freedom for the operator (there's not much you can't do in a homebuilt aircraft), it does have some limitations. Namely, the airplane cannot be used for hire (so they can't be rented out for instruction for example), and the builder is legally the manufacturer, so he comes under a lot of liability concerns if he ever sells the plane.

    For old planes, unless you get a field approval (unlikely) or the mod falls under an STC (Special Type Certificate), repairs and rebuilds of components must be EXACTLY the same as the original if you are to keep the plane Certified as a regular aircraft. So it's not just an issue of rebuilding the plane to a safe working condition to keep it functioning - that's easy; it's a matter of rebuilding it back to exactly the way it was before. That's not so easy to guess at.

    Of course, the Piper Cub is not a great example as total blueprints are apparently available for this one. Indeed, salvaged data-plates from wrecked Cubs go for $10k or so by themselves - as long as you have that you can literally build the plane from scratch according the original plans, stick the data plate on it, and it is legally the same plane as the one that was wrecked. Even though it was constructed form scratch, that whole process was considered a "repair" operation. The FAA is a strange critter :).
  • by beeblebrox (16781) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @07:59PM (#17941758)

    If you just think it would be cool to see, it wouldn't 'enhance aviation safety' in anyway to release the details.

    Even if the request is from an aeronautics student who, years later, might well be involved in the design of aircraft on which you or your descendants might fly?

  • by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @10:28PM (#17943396) Homepage
    Care to explain? Maybe some linkage, or perhaps an anecdotal example would help to clarify what you mean.

    Until the 1976 Copyright Act, published materials that were not formally registered with the Copyright Office (or other bodies, if you go back far enough), were automatically in the public domain. Many unpublished works were as well. And now, after the 1976 Act, unpublished, unregistered works that were created before 1978 and not published by 2003 also automatically entered the public domain. So it's not as though we have to grant copyrights to everything, or something.

    But the crappy laws we have these days, which do indiscriminately grant copyrights pretty clearly are not only not benefiting the public (which wants 1) works to be created and published, and; 2) works to be in the public domain as soon as possible and to be minimally protected by copyright if at all), but they aren't even an incentive to authors to begin with. (e.g. architectural works, overly long terms, giving works the full measure of protection without any indication by the author that it is desired)

    We can do pretty much anything we want with copyright. It has to provide a public benefit, as described above. It should provide the greatest possible benefit. It has to have limited terms, it has to only protect original works of authorship, and the rights have to vest in the author. So long as these requirements can be met, copyright can be pretty much anything. The current system is no good, though, so at least we know what it shouldn't be.

    Let me posit this though: what if I decide that all of my love notes over the years constitute a publishable, marketable product? Since I didn't write them initially to publish have I lost my right to do so?

    I think that we ought to take a page from patent law and the old common law copyright, which is pretty closely related to copyright law, in that they use similar means to achieve similar ends. If you're still in the process of creating a work, then you should have some limited rights to prevent people from pirating the manuscript, as it were, but it shouldn't be enough protection that an author would actively want to be at this level of protection if he could avoid it. Otherwise, if you abandon the work in progress, you get one year, and then you lose your rights in it and your eligibility for a registered copyright if you haven't registered it already. If you publish the work (inclusive of publicly performing or displaying it), then you get one year to register before your unregistered rights expire. The whole point of the system should be to weed out authors who are not motivated by the commercial benefits which are the only thing a copyright is good for. Hobbyists shouldn't get copyrights unless they're transitioning over to being professionals; it's not an incentive for hobbyists, who would have done the same work anyway. (It's analogous to paying someone for painting your house after they painted it for free; the charity on both sides is admirable, but it's no way to run a railroad) Once the work is registered, the full measure of protections open up, copies are deposited with the Library of Congress, and you need only renew the copyright periodically (say, every year or two) so that your continuing interest can be judged; fail to renew, and we can safely say that you don't care about the copyright anymore, so the work enters the public domain before the maximum possible term would run through. (Which also is how we used to do things, though with longer terms)

    So in your case, you were not inspired by copyright in writing the notes. And while it'd be nice to get them published, which is desirable, it's also nice to not grant copyrights excessively. Often, fewer works but more freedom is more valuable than more works and less freedom. Given that you probably will not have competition for your love letters -- there's so many authors that it's a publisher's market -- you may as well publish it as a public domain work. If there is any money to be mad
  • My own experience... (Score:3, Informative)

    by jd (1658) <imipak@yahoo.cEINSTEINom minus physicist> on Thursday February 08, 2007 @10:54PM (#17943624) Homepage Journal tracking down the plans for the DH98 DeHavilland Mosquito was that it took nearly ten years of querying every known hobbyist and vintage aircraft group known to man, virtually every museum with a DH98, British Aerospace (the last company to own a flying Mosquito and the owner of the DeHavilland intellectual property) and a group that now sells reproduction DeHavilland aircraft.

    Ten years. And that's for a plane that effectively stopped existing three or four years before I even started the quest.

    (In the end, I did obtain some very basic plans for the airframe and wings, from the Windsor Bomber Group, but only because they wanted me to do some data conversion for them. I still don't have nearly enough information to even build a basic flight sim model.)

    For more "in demand" designs - stuff that would have enough value to hobbyists to be able to bleed 'em dry for parts to keep to FAA safety standards - there is not a hope in hell you'll ever see those plans, whatever the FCC may rule. When it's a choice beyween your life and their wallet, it doesn't take a genius to figure out which the corps are going to side with.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the demigodic party. -- Dennis Ritchie