Mr. Smith's Neighborhood

It's a beautiful day in the Neighborhood for teachers everywhere! Anything and everything is fair game!

Intellectual Property and Information Control May 14, 2006

First of all, Happy Mother's Day to you and yours!  🙂

I vaguely remember an after-dinner speech at some association hootenanny back in the mid-1990's about the world entering a new age: the Age of Information. I watched the corporate world (or at least my small pigeon hole in it) make a massive surge to garner, control and plan to sell information. This was, of course, fueled by the massive leaps occurring in technology.

In my education and information science courses, I have read a great deal about the corporate movement to control information through the use of databases and other holdings. Much of it is kept secret, for internal use only (customer databases and consumer demographics are examples); in schools, teachers and administrators tend to do the same because we only rely on the results of standardized tests for external comparisons. However, the greater concerns come when one acknowledges the merger patterns in publishing and other industries: knowledge, data, information and other intellectual properties are being taken hostage in these mergers.  

To academia and others, the copyright laws are insanity. As a former (part time) professional in the radio industry, me and many of my colleagues looked at the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act and saw two stark realities. One, Sonny was just trying to hold onto his chunk of Cher's career which was worth a fortune in royalties every year (several of Sonny and Cher's hits were re-published in the early 1980's). More frightening was the control of creative works and information that was being extended and cornered by publishing concerns and record labels (now recording enterprises).

We have seemingly gone far afield of the original intent by our founding fathers. In the slow-moving, non-technological world of the late 18th century, copyright laws extended a mere 28 years. About 220 years later, when knowledge and information changes daily at the pace of light years in comparison to the 1780's, we have a situation where copyrights are extended as far as the life of the author plus 70 years (or 90 years and 120 years for other situations). Information that is old and out-dated is being locked away while newer information is being equally less-accessible despite the technological boom. Maybe the true "creative" genius needs to be preserved, but intellectual properties also need to enter the public domain where they truly can be expanded upon and given new meanings, perspectives and applications.

One must wonder about a creative mind that says we can "look but not touch" a masterpiece for about a century. Is there a level of selfishness and short-sightedness attached to such an attitude? To me, this signals another attempt at recreating aristocracy in America. As America continues on its transformation from an industrial organization to a service organization in the global economy, information is our most prized possession; however, we also need to keep expanding that information in creative ways beyond the corporate vaults. Copyright and patent laws are creating a new system of the "have's and have-not's" in the corporate, academic and consumer worlds. While one could make a strong case for the passing of an author's or creator's royalties to their heirs, it is corporations that are the real beneficiciaries. We need to advocate a return to the vision of our forefathers that offered fair protection, fair usage and widespread availability of new information and knowledge at a reasonable level of control.

As for ambushing innocent users who cannot locate copyright owners … doesn't it make more sense to put the onus on copyright owners to make their presence known? I will use a reverse of the whole "anti-junk mail" movement. Someone decided years ago that people could mail us and call us anytime they wanted UNLESS we signed up on "No Call" lists. If you want to exercise your ownership of a copyright (with the obvious exceptions of web sites), you should register your name, address and copyright position (eg: copies permitted for classroom and educational use, no copies permitted without written permission, no copies permitted, quotation allowances, etc.).

Be Informed. Be Knowledgeable. Advocate, Advocate. Advocate.

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