Posts Tagged ‘Intellectual Property’

I’ve mentioned before in my blog, the copyright law that was meant to come into force in my home country, and the relevance it had for international copyright protection efforts. Just as a brief reminder – the law was supposedly going to make it harder for people to breach copyright, but in the process it went against some fundamental justice principles (like innocent til proven guilty) and made parties like ISPs effectively responsible for something they shouldn’t have been responsible for. The “black-out” campaign bought international attention to the issue and the consequences it might have for the future of copyright law and internet use.

So I am pleased to be able to provide this link to the latest news that the offending section has been removed. I will watch what replaces it and continue putting up any relevant and interesting updates.

Thank you to everyone who supported the black-out campaign 🙂

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I’ve only recently come across a blog entry about a law that is meant to come into force here very soon – one that makes ISPs cut off Internet access once a customer has infringed copyright more than once, via their Internet service. It’s seen as a highly controversial move, mostly turning on the issue of proof of the infringement. The infringements (as the Bill currently stands) do not have to be proven in a court of law.

This is just one more effort to counter the intellectual property issues plaguing the Internet – the sort of issues that Second Life residents face every day. In my personal opinion this is a misguided approach to the issue that causes more problems than it will solve. A previous blog post of mine talked about the bad laws that often get implemented to try to cover new technology, and I think here we have a prime example of that typically haphazard and unprincipled approach. Part of the extended debate on this particular issue is whether other countries will follow our “bold lead”… one can only hope not.

This is an issue I intend to return to in more depth soon since the law is due to come into force at the end of this month, I will keep an eye on it’s progress and reception. I will also take a more in-depth look at the rest of the Act since it is entirely about “New Technologies” and copyright. If you’d like to have a look at the original Government press release about the Act, you’ll find it here.

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When I was doing my law degree I unfortunately chose not to do the course on Law & Technology (it had too much internal assessment required and a lot of it had to be done online – I didn’t have regular Internet access so that was a no-goer). I did however inevitably get exposed to bits and pieces of the theory behind it through my other courses – like Evidence and Intellectual Property. One of the technology-and-law related things that I got shown intrigued me and stuck with me, and I think it’s incredibly relevant to Second Life. And I’m going to share it with you, you lucky wee things.

When new technology emerges it is essentially unregulated. Some law will exist that can be stretched or interpreted to cover it – such as trying to apply classic copyright law to digital images. This is often awkward though, and applied in an inconsistent way. A body of law will slowly build up through the court system and there will come a point when the government steps in to regulate “properly” – through new express statutes that either clarify how current law applies to the new technology or (and more likely) creates entirely new law to cover it. The government usually steps in under pressure from lobby groups, and they sometimes even listen to the legal fraternity (shock horror).

The pressure groups should be familiar to you, they say things like “but think of the children!” and “zomg, no, people have freedom!”. And don’t lose sight of the effect of regulation that is of most interest to the government: tax revenue *nahm nahm nahm*.

Now that I’ve told you the theory (and it does seem to hold true in my observations), I’m going to tell you what I think of it and where I think things go wrong in the regulation.

Law should be based on core unchanging principles that can be applied to any new situation. Figuring out how it applies can take a while, but it does not require entire new swags of law to deal with it: Law that comes out of the nothingness like that often ends up contradicting other areas of the law and being counter-intuitive. You often get a flood of new law coming out to fix the new technology, and it tends to whittle down to something more sensible and concise over time, but you still seem to end up with a bunch of silly over-complicated laws trying to cover discrete situations instead of being based on the application of core principles. Intellectual law in the virtual environment seems to be going through this process right now.

You’ll always get a bunch of anarchists saying “leave my new technology alone, man, this is the way of the future, we don’t need no laws” (throw in a few extra “dudes” too). I sympathise with this to a point: I agree that freedom is awesome and society is way over regulated, but there is good law and bad law – don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. For a while this view is very popular, and it was true of the Internet too. It was quite popular for people to state that the Internet was the great unregulated world of the future and that law should never touch it. It was quite popular. These days people who hold that opinion are slowly but surely becoming the minority and people are becoming more aware of the trend I’ve told you about: That with new technology will eventually come regulation and law – it appears to be an inevitable process of progress.

Each side ends up accusing the other side of being stuck in the past: The anarchists think the law-lovers are not realising the “true nature of the Internet”, while the other side think the anarchists need to realise that law doesn’t magically stop existing just because some new technology was discovered – that it is rather the anarchists who are stuck in the past in thinking the and not realising that the Internet (for instance)  is part of the world and people’s real lives too. Both sides thinking they see the “true nature of the Internet” and trying to convince the other of who’s right.

Don’t forget too that new technology will evolve to be able to control the new technology that was at issue. Let me make that clearer: The Internet supposedly gave people anonymity and the ability to get away with all sorts of things that would have been illegal in the real world. But the ability to trace people and their behaviour, to lock down their identities and thereby hold them accountable, has similarly evolved. Does anyone still think they are completely anonymous just because they’re behind a computer screen? It definitely used to be the popular opinion. In turn governments find ways and permissions to trace your money as it moves around the Internet so they can tax you “properly”.

All of this applies directly to Second Life of course. I’ve already mentioned here the issues of intellectual property and tax, but don’t forget what happened to gambling there too. And I have no doubt you can think of more Second Life specific examples. The application of intellectual property to Second Life needs a heck of a lot of work – there is a lot of clarification and cleaning up required here, in fact I believe it is the unpleasant and confusing mix of over-regulated and under-enforced. Gambling should have never gone from Second Life, the plonkers – it was fun and I miss it. Remember how everyone was saying Second Life would die when gambling went..? I’d love to see what actually happened to their user numbers and profit when it went.Gambling is of course tied up with taxes *shudders*and morality. Taxes and morality are huge discussion areas that require whole blogs to themselves, I’ll tackle those separately some other time.

I’ve followed this pattern of behaviour for new technology and the internet at a local level too – particularly in regards to a New Zealand website called http://www.trademe.co.nz, it’s essentially our version of E-Bay. It is apparently the most used New Zealand site. It started off a free haven with very few restrictions but the restricted and immoral items (porn and alchohol for instance) got cracked down on, and soon enough the government started rubbing its hands together with it realised how many household wives were making money off selling their old books and children toys to other household wives *shock horror*. There are lots of people making real money off it too of course but lots of small timers were suddenly having to calculate their earnings and decide if they were selling for profit etc as the tax collectors made their rumblings and settled in for evermore. I’m sure you have some local examples and experiences too, feel free to share them.

So where does that put us now? The great thing is we have the chance to effect and direct this process since it’s ongoing. The regulation and application of law will happen, let’s accept that right now. Instead focus on what we want it to look like; there is good law and there is bad law, the trick is trying to make it the good kind.

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A while ago I said I would be posting about Intellectual Property as it applies to Second Life, drawing from both my Philosophical and Legal background, as well as my experiences. Numerous fun things like my Twilight Gallery showing and my wisdom teeth being yanked have managed to postpone the series, but it has been a constant thought in the back of my mind and this is the first proper return to my intentions.

I want to start off where I think a lot of arguments get lost. You’ll find a lot of people talking about “this is the way of the future, no more property restrictions!” or “only the big companies are being harmed so no foul” or “if you can get away with it, you should”.  When these justifications / excuses / explanations for breaches of intellectual property rights are made, you have to realise where such people are coming from, otherwise you will end up both talking completely past each other, with neither party making any headway towards persuading or altering the behaviour of the other. So I want to start slowly with the foundations of Intellectual Property, which will help untangle such messes.

As remedial and annoying as it may sound, you have to know why you have Intellectual Property laws in the first place. Is it your opinion that they are rules merely to protect the interests of the ruling class as all laws are (such as the Critical Legal Studies movement will espouse)? Are they laws without any basis in reality – able to be changed at the law makers whim, reflecting nothing more meaningful than driving on the left instead of the right hand side of the road? Are they economic rules, aimed at protecting commercial transactions? Perhaps they are purely consequentialist rules in your opinion, only useful and justifiable if following them leads to a better life for the majority of people?

The problem is, most people don’t think from the starting point, and if you don’t know what the starting point is, then how can you mount a coherent and meaningful discussion when people from those sorts of backgrounds I’ve just listed above, come to your table with such statements? You are unarmed, and they will win on emotion and rhetoric. As it’s put in some far too oft read philosophy texts “Is morality merely banging on the table?” – is it just a matter of saying louder than the person next to you that this matters and you want to protect it?

Well it is more than that. Intellectual Property is more than table-banging, it is more than about fat cats getting fatter. It is about the foundations of a functioning society, it is about humanity living within a scheme of coherent and meaningful laws that protect the efforts of their bodies and minds. And if you like, you can turn that into a consequentialist discussion about what sort of world we would live in without such rules – for me it will effectively come down to the same conclusion. But the route I choose to tread is to do with the philosophical underpinnings of property, and that is my next intended post on this topic. This has just been an introductory set-up to my next piece, to help you understand the importance and differences between the origins for our reasoning. I will be working up to some quite specific Second Life topics based in Intellectual Property that bug the hell outta me very regularly. But I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t start at the beginning, the way that I wish more people would.

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…was a question I was asked in a comment here on my blog tonight. So let’s just put it out there for why what I say on the topic might be worth listening to; specifically, what “credentials” I have in this area (which they asked for).

If you already know my background stop reading now cause this is going to sound like showing off :p

On the law side: I have an Honours Degree in Law, including an elective component on Intellectual Property. I also have taught Law at two Universities – as a Tutor at in a Law School and a Lecturer in a Inter-disciplinary Business School. But that’s not enough so let’s keep going..

Why should you listen to my views about the philosophical underpinnings of Intellectual Property and whether it is “right or wrong” in an ethical sense..? How about because I have an Honours Degree in Philosophy with a particular focus on Ethics, and have also tutored at University in Philosophy – that is to say, the place respected me enough to employ me to teach future philosophers.

I think that might be enough about my RL for now, I’m not huge on sharing excessive amounts of it. But hopefully that’s enough to cover why my opinion on Intellectual Property might actually be worth listening to. Decide for yourself.

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A lot of people in SL don’t “get me” when it comes to my view on intellectual property (music, software, art, writing, design, etc). I’ve read posts that say it’s just the way of the future that these ideas of original creator will break down and become grass-roots and community based notions. Not if I can help it. Sound nasty or short-sighted..? It’s not, really. If you want to try to understand my point of view you need to understand my background – the academic mind.

In my world – the “Ivory Tower” some call it – the product of your mind is everything: It is the grades that get you your job and it is the thing which keeps you in your job. If you were to pass off someone else’s ideas or product as your own you would be under-cutting the foundation and point of the institution: Original creativity, new knowledge, new ideas, which ultimately benefit mankind, and are properly rewarded with prestige, power and monetary reward.

Still sound nasty and short-sighted? Well then you’ll have to have an indepth discussion with me about ethics and law and probably get a bit into logic, metaphyics, epistemology and politics. If at that stage you still understand (or care) what I’m going on about, I’d make impressed noises and hold you in rather high regard.

I am, in part, a product of my environment. I am also critically reflective though and still hold that my views on such matters as intellectual property, are grounded in sound logic and understanding. Were a flaw in my reasoning to be pointed out, I would acknowledge and address it. Haven’t found a convincing or sound argument pro theft yet though…

So with this background I am going to start writing about topics I’ve shyed away from for too long – the tricky and intense topics associated with intellectual property rights, in the legal and ethical sense – in SL. Those posts will be spaced out because of the level of research I intend to put into them, there will be plenty of less confrontational and light-hearted posts in between, but I’m not going to shy away from sharing my thoughts on this vital topic anymore.

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I should warn you: This post is long, it is complicated, and for some it will be offensive. It’s one of those things I don’t expect many people to read, and even less to understand. But I’m writing it anyway cause hey, it’s my blog.

I have a firm set of principles by which I live. The fundamentals never change. They are based on almost a solid decade of full-time university study of both law and philosophy, backed up by over 7 years of tutoring and lecturing in the same, and of course my lifetime of experiences and observations. At all times – all times – I am measuring the truth and success of my principles. All life is my data. And SL drives me nuts.

SL is full of people judging and condemning other people for minor happenings – for social interactions that disturb them, or someone using one too many swear words – so much that means so little. These things, they may bother us, upset us, but they are only reasons for or against continuing to have the individual in question, in our lives. We must collect and examine such data when it appears, and act upon it, analyse consequences, etc. And SL drives me nuts:

Because the things that really matter, the real things that offend directly the principles that inform and shape my life, are the nothings to so many people in SL. If you understand the right to life, then you are half way to understanding property rights as the necessary corollary to the right to life. So fundamental, so absolutely essential, and yet. In SL, theft, of people’s creations – their software, their music, their art, it’s everywhere. It is constant. Thieving the product of others’ effort, of others’ genius. And people laugh it off, they make excuses, and they keep on doing it. I listen to people complain about stolen art and in the next breath joke about ripping off music and software. Integrity.

Someone cheating on an SL partner or telling lies or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, these might be character flaws or something to be worked upon; they are never things you should simply “judge” though because human relationships and communications are infinitely complex and require as much information as possible to reach any meaningful conclusion on. And with people, with their emotions and history, you will never have all the information you need to out-right condemn people for such things. This is part of why I give intense loyalty to certain people in my life – because at some point you just have to say “you know what, this is someone I like and want around and I’m going to stand by no matter what, cause no one is perfect and I’ll never have the full story, but this person I shall choose to believe and support when it comes to the crunch.”

So despite all the relationship and communication ups and downs, I get on with life – I forgive, or I don’t, and that’s just a choice we have to make sometimes. But theft? Theft shocks and upsets me, it damages my opinion of someone more than them cheating on an SL partner ever would. It taints my image of that person until they openly say “you know what, I was wrong, and I’m not going to steal anymore”. Even at that point I want to tell them to pay the person who’s music they’d stolen up to that point, pay the software developer they ripped off – buy the item they’ve been enjoying for free for so long before they realised what they’d been doing. But they don’t, and I’m just happy for the fact they reached that understanding of the immorality of theft; happy for that small blessing.

I think such attitudes are a reflection of not having thought about the consequences of their actions, of the “everyone else is doing it so why shouldn’t I”, and of – most fundamentally – not having reflected on the basic rights that all humans beings are entitled to by virtue of their humanity, and the rules of property which it necessitates.

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