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Author Topic: How long should intellectual property rights last?  (Read 963 times)
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The thread on piracy has got me thinking. I am firmly in the camp that the use of someone else's intellectual property (movie, music, software, ...) without paying the asked for price is theft.  That is not what I am starting this thread about.  I am interested in the difference between IP and normal property and how that applies to copyrights and to a lesser extent patents.  I am most interested in hearing the opinions of those of you who earn all or most of your living through your IP.

Foundation:  The supposed basis of government protections of copyright is to provide economic encouragement for innovation, though I am at a loss as to how this applies to music/movies.  If one assumes that is the basis; should software copyrights be allowed to extend for the decades they currently do?  Since old software (say > 5-10 years) has little of its economic value left, should copyright protections continue?

Any comments?
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The lawyers have it all tied up. I don't worry much about stuff I have no control over.
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Any comments?

Two quotes come to mind. The first is a general observation about about the nature of private property, and underlines that discussing the nature of "property rights" as if they are somehow axioms handed down from Mt Sinai is pointless:

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The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying "This is mine", and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society.  From how many crimes, wars and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not anyone have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows, "Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody."  ~Jean Jacques Rousseau, A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality

So, you need a theory of property before you can intelligibly discuss the "rights" and "wrongs" of property laws. What's your theory of private property?


A less philosophical, but more practical observation from a fellow who has lots of experience with private property:
  
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Intellectual property has the shelf life of a banana.  ~Bill Gates

OK, one more:

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Whenever there is a conflict between human rights and property rights, human rights must prevail.  ~Abraham Lincoln

(My suspicion is Abe would be getting a pasting 24/7 on Foxnews if he were around today, LOL. What a pinko!)
« Last Edit: August 22, 2012, 07:21:57 pm by pico » Logged

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I've always has a lot of respect for Don Lancaster a rather famous author, inventor, and small business owner in the electronic world. Here is his case on Patents, short story is stay away from them if at all possible.

http://www.tinaja.com/glib/casagpat.pdf
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Check into Japanese patent law, a 5% "improvement" is all it takes to get around a patent.

Then look into copyrights, trademarks, and music guarded by RIAA.

Also find the IPA that all regular Tandy employees are required to sign.

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Intellectual property has the shelf life of a banana.  ~Bill Gates
That's only true if microsoft produced it  smiley-evil

btw, some of the patents that MS is using to try to squash Android date back to the 1990s. So, if you're ever invited to Chez Bill for dinner, you should pass on the banana cream pie...

There's a qualitative difference between patents and copyrights that I think should affect their lifetimes.  Copyrights only cover a very specific "implementation" of an idea, not the basic concept: even if David were copyighted, Michaelangelo (or, as happens now, his estate) couldn't stop people from making any statues of naked guys.  So the presence of copyrights tends to apply pressure for advancement in the arts, because even the creators of the 1047th buddy movie or the 9 millionth short story about unrequited love have to come up with some sort of novel variation on the theme.

So copyrights ought to have a term somewhere between that of patents and "the heat death of the Universe" (which seems to be the current case for works sold to corporations).  I'm leaning toward "life of the author, plus 10 or 20 years if the rights are willed to a spouse or offspring".  If the copyright is owned by a corporation, the term should be shorter. Say, 40 or 50 years. That should be enough to get nearly all the commercial value out of nearly all works.
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U.S. Patents, at least as they apply to software, seem to have a few inherent flaws that I believe override any theoretical basis for for the 'good' they are supposed to provide.  The two biggest, in my opinion, are the difficulty/cost for a individual/small company in obtaining one--particularly since this difficulty/cost are completely external to the actual costs (which are typically minor in comparison) of developing the patentable idea in the first place.  Compound that with the fact that the arbiters of granting patents are either technically incapable of judging the suitability for the patent -- or if they have the technical ability they almost certainly have conflicts of interest relating to the patent...

Copyrights are a completely different aspect, to my mind.  I have no problem with copyrights being of either unlimited duration, nor of a limited (even if short) duration.  I see advantages/disadvatanges to both conditions.

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I'm leaning toward "life of the author, plus 10 or 20 years if the rights are willed to a spouse or offspring".  If the copyright is owned by a corporation, the term should be shorter. Say, 40 or 50 years. That should be enough to get nearly all the commercial value out of nearly all works.

Why should there be a difference between author/offspring and a corporation?  Particularly if the corporation limit gets nearly all of the commercial value from the item?  I like the idea of duration being tied to commercial value; however, different types of copyrighted items clearly have different durations of commercial value.  Movies, music, art, etc... clearly have value for potentially centuries.  Software would be at best a decade or two...

I am interested in this because I routinely deal with organizations that are having trouble with software they use that was purchased decades ago, and the original (and sometimes second and third generation) hardware is failing.  Mostly this software will not run on modern equipment.  So I have been creating virtual machines to encapsulate the older packages.  The problem is that even if they have the original media it is usually corrupt or in a format that is not readable...  So far I have been getting around this problem by purchasing second hand copies; mostly because the copyright holder will not sell me originals.  My suspicion is that if software copyrights were short enough to only cover extracting most (say > 95%) of the commercial value; then something like project gutenburg would be set up for older software...
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U.S. Patents, at least as they apply to software, seem to have a few inherent flaws that I believe override any theoretical basis for for the 'good' they are supposed to provide.
I'm not convinced that the flaws are really inherent, though I agree that they're definitely there at the moment. And are especially difficult to fix when it comes to software, because it's often harder to nail down exactly what's being patented than it is with physical objects and processes.

That's a separate issue from "how long", though, getting into whether some things should be patentable at all.

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Why should there be a difference between author/offspring and a corporation?
Partly for a reason you've already mentioned: that works produced by organizations skew toward the type with a shorter commercial lifespan. Partly because individuals tend to be less able to extract the commercial value quickly,  and more likely to need that last few percent of royalties. And partly because individuals are less likely to file suits based on dubious claims of infringement.

I'm using fuzzy language like "tend to" because I recognize that there are exceptions (like a lot of Disney Corp's old cartoons), but I think the ideas I laid out would form a good starting point for debates to arrive at hard and fast rules.

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I am interested in this because I routinely deal with organizations that are having trouble with software they use that was purchased decades ago, and the original (and sometimes second and third generation) hardware is failing
Ah, that brings back memories: one of my very first jobs out of school was on a team converting an old 1401-based system to run on 360s.  And we faced some of the same technical problems, because some of the old programs couldn't be easily replaced: they were hand-patched object decks for which there was no source or current documentation.  We had to do months of parallel runs to make sure that we weren't going to get bitten by terminally-clever programmers who'd exploited obscure quirks in the original hardware that weren't included in the emulator.
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My suspicion is that if software copyrights were short enough to only cover extracting most (say > 95%) of the commercial value; then something like project gutenburg would be set up for older software...
I agree, but I see a potential big debate (and, doubtless, years of litigation) over whether, e.g., the CGI for Avatar is "art" or "software".
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Why should there be a difference between author/offspring and a corporation?
Partly for a reason you've already mentioned: that works produced by organizations skew toward the type with a shorter commercial lifespan. Partly because individuals tend to be less able to extract the commercial value quickly,  and more likely to need that last few percent of royalties. And partly because individuals are less likely to file suits based on dubious claims of infringement.

I'm using fuzzy language like "tend to" because I recognize that there are exceptions (like a lot of Disney Corp's old cartoons), but I think the ideas I laid out would form a good starting point for debates to arrive at hard and fast rules.

Mostly I am thinking in terms of software production, since in my opinion I don't see any reason copyright for other IP shouldn't be 'in perpetuity'.  For software, I would think a short period after the copyright holder (individual or corporation) ceases to offer the produce for sale/support would be sufficient.  Since software can easily be sold through the internet, I don't see individuals having any more difficulty than corporations for that sale/commercial opportunity.  If the copyright holder ceases sale/support of the product, the people who purchased that software and have integrated it into their processes should have some recourse for keeping those processes running after the copyright holder has washed their hands of the product (which I believe they do when the cease sales/support)

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My suspicion is that if software copyrights were short enough to only cover extracting most (say > 95%) of the commercial value; then something like project gutenburg would be set up for older software...
I agree, but I see a potential big debate (and, doubtless, years of litigation) over whether, e.g., the CGI for Avatar is "art" or "software". 

I didn't think about those situations, but I would think the distinction would be in the sale of the item.  I don't think the CGI was 'sold' to anyone, I suspect it was provided as a service for the move production.  I would think it would be fairly straightforward to distinguish such as 'not software'
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On software, I say no more than 5 years. That gives enough time to make a significant amount of cash, and for the software to be "old". It sure as heck shouldn't be lifetime + 80 years.
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