Property Evolves

Copyright holders lost another battle this week in their legal war with universities over the boundaries of educational “fair use” in the digital age. A district court judge on Wednesday issued a decision in Authors Guild v. HathiTrust, a year-long lawsuit over a shared digital repository based at the University of Michigan.

The decision comes on the heels of a similarly disappointing decision for copyright holders in a landmark infringement case involving electronic reserves at libraries; and a second defeat in another copyright case involving online video streaming at the University of California at Los Angeles.

A Legal Sweep” Steve Kolowich

We tend to think of property as fixed but it isn’t; it’s evolving at a steady pace under contemporary technological and scientific pressures. Commercial interests want to keep private property as narrowly defined as possible to ensure profitability; educators and open science and technology advocates want to use governmental policy and law to make knowledge and information more accessible and so loosen capital’s grip.

If these three legal rulings are any indication, the corporate attempt to define intellectual property narrowly is failing, in very stark contrast to what’s happened in science.”The patent,” as the Center for Responsible Genetics reminds us, “has become the primary mechanism through which the private sector has advanced its claims to ownership over genes, proteins, and entire organisms.” Maybe that light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a train after all.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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