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In Defense Of Patents and Copyright 283

Romer!can writes "C|Net Editor Michael Kanellos offers a potentially contentious opinion piece about patents and copyright on the CNet site. Highlights of the fairly biased piece include: a cheap shot dismissing open source projects as existing only to act as a foil for Microsoft, blatantly equating copyright infringement with stealing, and an embarrassing failure to even casually mention the current term lengths of patents and copyrights as a driving factor behind popular dissatisfaction. Instead, he wades through obscure humor and emotional appeals characterizing patent trolls as the guy next door. 'Nearly every so-called [patent] troll turned out to have a somewhat persuasive story. Intellectual Ventures, a patent firm started by former Microsoft chief scientist Nathan Myhrvold, was staffed with fairly renowned scientists who didn't fit the profile of people trying to make a quick buck in court. Another man, criticized as one of the most litigious people in the U.S., had a great explanation for his behavior. He had only sued people who had signed--and then violated--nondisclosure agreements.'"
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In Defense Of Patents and Copyright

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  • by A beautiful mind ( 821714 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @03:51PM (#19073293)
    ...why post it? I can find similar trolls with little or no effort too, but usually I'm here for a honest discussion. It is not like this article would be news in itself.
  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @03:52PM (#19073331) Homepage Journal
    Newsflash: corporate media execs will say anything to protect their monopolies on intellectual products. As a last resort they might produce an intellectually satisfying argument, but only once they've exhausted all the easy ways to keep their fat status quo.

    (C) Doc Ruby. All Rights Reserved.
  • by rbrander ( 73222 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @03:53PM (#19073341) Homepage
    ...it IS a troll. NOBODY who works for C-Net can possibly be ignorant of the rest of this story, or of the tempest in a teapot that a biased editorial is sure to stir up. Therefore, it is purposeful, intended to drive up traffic and replies.

    If that's his goal, don't give him the satisfaction. Don't read it, don't comment, don't reply.

    Which is not about "winning" some argument, it's just about not letting media people get paid for the almost mindlessly easy job of drumming up fake controversy. Same as ignoring all the cable TV and radio "shock jocks". Let them all work for a living, do some investigative reporting, find out some new facts (you know, "news"?) to fill up their sites with.

    Not just, as Jon Stewart said about 'Crossfire', "theatre".
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10, 2007 @03:57PM (#19073407)
    Maybe he posted it just because he knows it is a topic of interest to a lot of people who read this site? Sure, it may make a lot of people angry, and Zonk's summary comments will make a lot of other people angry, and there will be some flame wars....but isn't that what slashdot is all about?

    Well, ok, maybe not really, but it sure does seem to keep people busily coming back for more...

  • by Suspended_Reality ( 927563 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:00PM (#19073467)
    Actually, I thought it was too lengthy of a summary. Doubt it was "fair use", and we all know paraphrasing is stealing, too. Sue the bastard!
  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) * on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:01PM (#19073473)
    If it is opposed to what you beleave then it is a troll.

    Here is the mantra I have been hearing for a while. Free Speach for all who beleave in the same values as me. To the moderation dungion if you disagree. We only want stories telling how Patents and Copyrights are bad and evil. Explaining how they can be good makes the story bad.
  • Oh boy (Score:1, Insightful)

    by SpiffyMarc ( 590301 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:09PM (#19073615)
    Here come the "it's not stealing" crowd.

    "Waah, you spent hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars on something and I want to see it, but I don't want you to get a dime for it! I need justification! Oh wait, here we go, IT'S NOT THEFT CAUSE I MADE A DIGITAL COPY OF IT!"

    All you whiners who hate on "Old Media" and want everything completely free should hang out on YouTube and exclusively watch all the video blogs and clips of people running into each other with shopping carts. Because if you're successful in killing Old Media, that's all you'll have! Sorry guys. It may not require tens of millions of dollars to produce gobs and gobs of high quality video entertainment with mass appeal, but it does take more then a couple dudes with a camcorder and six bucks.
  • by Lockejaw ( 955650 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:09PM (#19073619)
    Your ideas don't make you a troll. The way you express them does.

    This is not trolling:

    I think patents, trademarks and copyrights are simply fantastic and a primary, necessary driver of the world economy.

    This is:

    And frankly, without them, most open-source projects would rapidly wither away: without an intellectual property behemoth like Microsoft to fight, what would be the point?
  • That is NOT IT (Score:2, Insightful)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:10PM (#19073645) Homepage Journal
    Yes, it is a crime, but that crime is NOT THEFT.

    There is a distinction for a reason. I suggest you might study the history of copyright, you fucking dumb ass.
  • by ajs ( 35943 ) <ajs@nOspam.ajs.com> on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:16PM (#19073737) Homepage Journal
    Yes, indeed! Please, do not feed the trolls. Do not click on the C|Net link, and if this really bothers, you just file it away in the back of your mind as another in the long list of reasons to never visit C|Net's site.
  • by kebes ( 861706 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:18PM (#19073761) Journal
    From TTA (the trolling article):

    In the Dark Ages, one could obtain wealth by raising an army and burning someone else's kingdom to the ground. In the Gilded Age, those on the fast track had a secret weapon of success: they bribed state legislators to obtain canal and railroad contracts. Unfortunately, those career options just aren't as viable as they once were. Instead, we have to invent stuff, and thus people should get compensated for the effort.
    It's positively hilarious that he structures the argument in this way. First he presents two methods that were historically used to obtain money. These methodologies are based upon using illicit means to gather power, and then turn this into a monopoly (in the first case, the power is military and the monopoly is the conquered land; in the second case the power is bribes and the monopoly is, well, a monopoly). The subtext is that these are "bad" ways to make a buck.

    Then the author immediately describes current "intellectual property." However the current state of "intellectual property" is more of the same: one uses some means (money, lobbying, market domination, bribes, etc.) to persuade the government to create laws that protect your monopoly. Of course instead of concluding that this current incarnation of monopoly-power is just as bad as the previous ones, he goes on to defend it. The analogy with the previous examples is so close that it almost makes me think the entire article is a gigantic joke.

    Does the author honestly not see the parallel? At one time, wars and railroad monopolies were certainly considered legitimate business. In 100 years, will our era be looked upon as a similarly barbaric time, where, ridiculously, the citizens were oppressed in the name of profits for a select few elite?
  • by openright ( 968536 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:20PM (#19073803) Homepage
    Historically, what happened when the publishing monopoly of the Stationers was killed, 300 years ago (decreasing the monopoly duration from infinity to 14 years)? Did people stop writing books?
  • by The Empiricist ( 854346 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:21PM (#19073823)

    There is a lot of talk about getting rid of patent trolls, but little consensus as to what a patent troll is. Very few companies will say "yes: we're patent trolls." At best, they're willing to tolerate being called patent trolls [com.com].

    What makes a patent troll? Does a company that develops a new technology but licenses it because it does not have the capital or market position to exploit the technology count as a patent troll? What about IBM? They produce products, but they license their patents [ibm.com] for use by others in products that don't compete with IBM's products. Does that make IBM a patent troll? Would they have to be making competing products to be on morally solid ground?

    There are definitely companies out that abuse the patent system (e.g., by filing continuation applications or requests for reexamination during which the applicants try to stretch the claims of their patents to read on subsequent innovations). But this author has a point that distinguishing the bad guys from the good guys is not easy. Many companies out there see themselves as just legitimately trying to leverage their full rights. Is that significantly different from consumers trying to maximize their rights as consumers by engaging in activities that aren't clearly legal (e.g., using direct music and movie clips for new works without seeking permission, creating libraries of MP3s and copying them to multiple systems, etc.).

    Activities that push the limits of the law create risk. Patent applicants pay significant fees and must spend a lot of time in their efforts, resulting in a guaranteed loss. Certain uses of a patent can raise anti-trust concerns or result in loss of the patent. Consumers pushing the boundaries of "fair use" often play a lottery in which the winner loses a nasty law suit. And there is always the risk that Congress or the courts may react by changing the law or interpretation of the law to minimize questionable activities.

    But those who are engaged in those activities probably believe that all they are doing is playing by a valid interpretation of the rules.

  • by Timesprout ( 579035 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:22PM (#19073831)

    Well, ok, maybe not really, but it sure does seem to keep people busily coming back for more...
    Sure but in the process has removed any credibility Slashdot may have had as a news site. Unless you have been reading Slashdot for a whileand can spot the immediate drivel many of the articles now appear to be nothing more than deliberately inaccurate headlines followed by leading questions followed by hysterical comments with most rational debate modded out by groupthink.
  • Re:Oh boy (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:23PM (#19073857)


    Can you provide any evidence based on legal facts to refute that statement? Nope. Because no matter what you want to believe, it's *still* not theft. It just isn't.

  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:24PM (#19073881) Homepage Journal

    Half the articles are flamebait, and the discussions are a battle between mindless OSS fanboys and corporate astroturfers.

    So, which are you?

  • by Concern ( 819622 ) * on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:27PM (#19073933) Journal
    You don't even have any choice as to whether or not to ignore software patents. There are hundreds of thousands of them. Then there are several thousand new applications a day. I'll give you a hint. It's impossible.

    That's why Microsoft ignores software patents. Even they, the richest company on the planet, have no alternative. And that's also why they're getting hit with a few 9-figure verdicts already. But they still play the game and pretend they're legitimate, because they somehow think they'll benefit, in the end, using them to crush current and potential competition with multi-million legal actions and the threat thereof.

    It is impossible to tell if any piece of code infringes. By the way, have you read many of these things? Almost every line of code does infringe.

    Every line written is a ticking patent timebomb. Every player has to ante up and make their own "patent portfolio" which they can then apply against whoever sues them. If that sounds like it excludes everyone but a few rich, dominant corporations... now you're getting the idea. Only minor fly in the ointment: those patent shell companies that actually don't do any work except suing people, therefore can't be hit with a retaliatory claim. Ooops. And yet even after getting whacked by a few, MS is still winking and continuing to play the game. Shows you how much they hate honest competition.

    Software Patents are currently ignored by almost everyone. But to the extent they are enforced, they will categorically end the American software industry, and software will continue to be a business in Europe, Asia, and... well basically every other civilized nation, who have soundly rejected this silly game and are by the way laughing their asses off at us.
  • by Uruk ( 4907 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:28PM (#19073953)
    This really applies to a whole class of media - the "any publicity is good publicity" crowd.

    Think about it. If you come across a guy on a soapbox on the street corner, raving about how he communicates with purple unicorns in the 4th dimension, do you spend a lot of time refuting his arguments in a public forum?

    No. Just let it go. Don't legitimize nuttiness by addressing it.

    The old saying: "Never get in a fight with a pig. You'll get dirty, and the pig will enjoy it."
  • Re:Oh boy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:35PM (#19074061)
    "Oh wait, here we go, IT'S NOT THEFT CAUSE I MADE A DIGITAL COPY OF IT!"

    Well DUH! Its not theft.

    They made a 'digital copy of it': that means:

    its not assault
    its not loitering
    its not shoplifting
    its not election fraud
    its not running a red light
    its not coveting your neighbors ox ...
    oh and its NOT THEFT.

    It is however... "copyright infringement".

    So how about we just call it THAT, mkay? Call it what it is.

    Calling it theft is inaccurate and just confuses the issue.

  • by bmajik ( 96670 ) <matt@mattevans.org> on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:37PM (#19074091) Homepage Journal
    On one hand, the current legal environment around intellectual property is broken. Everytime you read something by RMS and think "this guy is a crack pot", 6 months later something happens that is uncomfortably moving us toward some of his dystopian predictions (i.e. "Freedom to Read").

    OTOH, the key innovation in the liberal western revolution (liberal in the Adam Smith sense of the word) has been the ability, due to lax legal and societal restrictions, of the individual to use their ingenuity to better their condition.

    Said differently, absolutely all of the progress of society in the last 300 years comes not from the owners, or from the workers, or such strange Marxist notions, but from the ideas and ability to make good on them.

    The progress of humanity western society is based in the ability of the individual to profit from their own intellectual labor - not their lower back strength.

    So how does one resolve this apparent conflict? It is man's mind, not his back, which creates wealth, progress, and an easier life. Yet the current implementation of intellectual property laws is broken, causing many to question even the valididty of intellectual property as a concept?

    I'm familiar with Jefferson's quote, but i don't think it can credibly used as an argument for dismissing the concept of intellectual property entirely.

    So what does a world look like where people are still compensated for the labor of their mind but which has a rational / sane legal framework around that compensation?

  • by Hijacked Public ( 999535 ) * on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:38PM (#19074095)
    I have been here a long time, pre-karma anyway.

    The place has always had drawbacks: spamming; crapflooding; Shoeboy; ACSII art; goatse links; Jon Katz; Michael Sims.

    Most of the 'debate' is the same record being played over and over. This article so far is, and certianly will continue to be, no exception. No new ground will be broken and the comments will be nearly identical to what went up during the Napster debate. Despite the lameness filters and low karma post restrictions, Slashdot has far more actual trolling than it ever did when Adequacy crowd was here.

    I am here now, subscribing, because there are a small minority of users who actually not only know their stuff but actively participate in fields that are relevant to many of the submissions that go up. There aren't many places one can go on the internet and have a discussion with an actual attorney who actually defends RIAA cases. Bruce Perens doesn't show up just anywhere and comment on FOSS issues. There was some article on here a few days ago about carbon nanotubes, and I don't know carbon nanotubes from cans of paint so I may have been getting hoodwinked, but there seemed to be people posting who actually had more than just cursory knowledge about the things.

    Anyway, enough emo about Slashdot. I don't think it has or ever had much credibility as a serious news site but it certianly offers something unique. If you can sift through the massive amount of drivel it makes visiting worth the time.
  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:40PM (#19074137) Journal
    I think it's more basic than that. Most of us (by which I mean myself, and everyone I project onto) is 'pro-fairness.' I am not against copyright. I use copyright on an almost daily basis to protect my own work. But I acknowledge that, when I use copyright, I am entering into a social contract. Society agrees to protect my temporary monopoly on my creations, in return for which I agree to:
    1. Make them available now at a reasonable price.
    2. Allow certain fair-use rights to everyone.
    3. Let them fall into the public domain eventually.
    The 'pro-copyright' lobby has not been playing fair recently, by blocking fair use with DRM and blocking the public domain with copyright term extensions. Similarly, the 'anti-copyright' lobby hasn't been playing fair either, by simply refusing to respect copyright at all.
  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:46PM (#19074265) Homepage Journal

    Sure but in the process has removed any credibility Slashdot may have had as a news site.

    Slashdot is not a news site. Slashdot doesn't report the news, it reports that someone else has reported the news. Slashdot is a discussion site. It provides a place for the nerd elite and nerd wannabes to come together and discuss the stories which interest them most (firehose++, even if it does have many shortcomings and annoyances.)

    In addition, you must ALWAYS check ALL news from ALL sources to see if it is a bunch of bullshit. Slashdot is not unique in this regard! Nor at least in the time I have been here has the quality of fact-checking declined noticeably. If anything has gone downhill since Slashdot was younger it's the SnR, which I would suggest is simply due to the staggering number of users. (Not that there's a million actives, as it sometimes appears.)

  • by yurnotsoeviltwin ( 891389 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:48PM (#19074313) Homepage
    Yea, seriously. If you want biased, you can just read the summary. To be honest, it's an opinion piece, and the purpose of an opinion piece is to be biased, and seriously, can anything that makes any sort of conclusion on such a complex/subjective topic as this NOT be biased?
  • by RLiegh ( 247921 ) * on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:50PM (#19074341) Homepage Journal
    I was surprised to find that anyone with even half a clue read C|Net to begin with. I literally can't remember the last time I read an article there.
  • by superbus1929 ( 1069292 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:51PM (#19074355) Homepage
    Sadly, perception is reality nowadays, and the perception is that anyone that owns a copyright is doing whatever they can to fuck their customers over any way they can with Draconian EULAs, the death of the public domain, DRM, dragnet litigation, you name it. That perception makes people overreact, and that brings in the other extreme. Now, we have two groups who want everything, no compromise, no exceptions, engaged in this massive pissing contest, and the only ones needing an umbrella are the moderates like us in the middle.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10, 2007 @04:56PM (#19074475)
    It might also have something to do with the large government subsidies that they use to fund their research.
  • Re:That is NOT IT (Score:2, Insightful)

    by josu ( 144992 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @05:27PM (#19074953)
    Parent shouldn't be modded as Flamebait. Copyright infringement is not theft. It's also not rape, or speeding, or drug use.
  • Re:Patent benefits (Score:3, Insightful)

    by init100 ( 915886 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @05:51PM (#19075305)

    not to mention prohibitively expensive, as in the USA the government may have to compensate patent holders by weakening their rights

    Why? If the government weakens the rights of patent holders, it will probably be because the system has flaws. Why should they be compensated when the government corrects those flaws?

    we should also bear in mind the consequences of going too far in the opposite direction.

    There is no chance of that happening, so why should people bear this in mind?

    Too few discussions of patent reform have an intelligent, informed and balanced basis in the purpose and benefits of the current patent system

    Maybe because the current patent system is anything but balanced, but rather tilted to the extreme in favor of the patent holders (especially big companies).

  • by Jherek Carnelian ( 831679 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @07:30PM (#19076609)
    You are setting up a strawman argument.

    The argument "used all the time around here" is not:

    Drug companies don't deserve patents/as-lengthy-patents because they spend more on advertising than research."
    Instead it is a lot more like:

    Drug companies claim they need lengthy patent protection because their R&D is so expensive. Except it turns out that the they spend substantially more on advertising than they do on R&D, so their claim deserves no sympathy.
  • by Gareth Williams ( 536468 ) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @10:48PM (#19078319)
    It's helpful to keep in mind that some people consider physical property ownership as a natural right. You say that the ability to keep people off your private land is a government-granted monopoly. But without some form of government you'd still be able to keep people off your land - to some degree, anyway - by threat of physical force. I'd bet that for as long as man has walked the earth, he has been aware of the notion of physical property - my cave, my spear, etc etc. The essence of property ownership is that ability to deny others access to something, even if it was in the past limited to what you could physically defend.

    Copyright, on the other hand, is a very recent invention. Throughout history man has had no notion of limiting the dissemination of information that he creates. Copyright is an invented 'right' - a government-granted monopoly that simply would not exist without said government's intervention. That is why some people look on it as a purely artificial construction.

    If you create something then indeed you should have the right to control what you create, and indeed you can. By all means do - keep it to yourself, don't distribute it, nobody will come and prize it from you. But if you do decide to give out (or sell) copies of your creation, your expectation to have a say in what is done with those copies once they have left your control is considered unreasonable by some. Suppose Bob buys a book off you. He then lends me the book to read. That you could turn around and say "hey, you can't do that! I didn't give you permission to share that with anybody" to Bob would seem quite outrageous to most reasonable people. After all, why should you be telling Bob what he can and can't do? Of course it isn't optimal for you, because you would prefer to have sold me a copy of your book too - but what right do you have to dictate how Bob should behave?

    So, what say instead of lending me the physical copy, Bob makes a small optimization, which is good for both Bob and me, but not for you - he photocopies the book and gives me a copy. Now at this point Bob is guilty of copyright infringement. He is in breach of laws that our society has put in place, not for your benefit, as you may like to imagine, but because they are designed to benefit society as a whole, by encouraging production of books such as yours. That's fair enough - it's a compromise, sure, but I can see the logic in it. But at the end of the day it's an artificial construction designed to benefit society.

    Please don't confuse it with a right.
  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) <qg@biodome.org> on Friday May 11, 2007 @01:06AM (#19079205) Homepage Journal
    That's really not an argument for why we, the people, should be willing to enact copyright laws and obey them.

    I'm sure a lot of surfers would like there to be a tax which enables them to surf all day and have us flip the bill, but just them expressing their desire is not a reason for us to pay for it.

"Yeah, but you're taking the universe out of context."