Siva Vaidhyanathan on Journalists, Google, and the Future of Copyright

“As the most pervasive regulation of speech and culture, the copyright system will help determine the richness and strength of democracy in the twenty-first century,” Siva Vaidhyanathan wrote in today’s Columbia Journalism Review. In “Copyright Jungle,” Vaidhyanathan examines the borderline legal/illegal copyright issues in the present day and how copyright law is currently being reshaped before our eyes — and most reporters are missing the point and risking the access and freedom that they (and most everybody) have grown so dependent on in the digital age.

In recent years, large multinational media companies have captured the global copyright system and twisted it toward their own short-term interests. The people who are supposed to benefit most from a system that makes ideas available — readers, students, and citizens — have been excluded. No one in Congress wants to hear from college students or librarians.

What begins as a critique of Kevin Kelly’s “Scan This Book!” feature in a May ’06 NYTimes Magazine (which mentions Google’s Library project at least 50 times), continues as a timely updated supplement for those of us thumbing through The Anarchist in the Library for the first time.

Google’s project, if it survives court challenges, would probably have modest effects on writing, reading, and publishing. For one thing, Kelly’s predictions depend on a part of the system he slights in his article: the copyright system.

Tim O’Reilly, who once argued that fewer than 4% of all books ever published continue to be commercially exploited, supported Google’s Book Search initiative posting research after Kelly’s article indicating the “long tail” effect of online indexing of as many books as possible (or in Google’s proposal, all of the titles in five major U.S. libraries). [link is to UC Berkeley research paper PDF, Google’s documentation on the library project is here].

But with corporations and media conglomerates hankering to lock up digital rights and ignore/shun the concept andn value of CC-style copyrights, the mainstream is missing the point by focusing on Google’s ambition to slightly alter or circumvent U.S. copyright law in an effort to add only a little to society — and “snippets” at that, writes Vaidhyanathan:

Google is exploiting the instability of the copyright system in a digital age. The company’s struggle with publishers over its legal ability to pursue its project is the most interesting and perhaps most transformative conflict in the copyright wars. But there are many other battles — and many other significant stories — out in the copyright jungle. Yet reporters seem lost.

The essay as a whole serves as a great heads-up to journalists and Free Culture-ite copyright activists alike, alluding to distortions in the media and confusion regarding ethics and legality (Da Vinci Code case), technology and it’s effect on consumer culture (p2p scare pieces) and one-dimensional dichotomies (hackers v. movie studios). (In fact the piece concludes with a “primer” for journalists).

It’s only natural for journalists to report stories with characters andn consequences regular people can relate to, but:

Reporters often fail to see the big picture in copyright stories: that what is at stake is the long-term health of our culture. If the copyright system fails, huge industries could crumble. If it gets too strong, it could strangle future creativity and research.

The modern journalist depends on Google’s system of copying (or caching) practically every pixel of information on the Web — be it for research, fact-checking or even publishing. Understanding media/copyright law in the digital age is crucial, but to report on the controversies of the day as if the sky were falling could only precipitate further restrictions on fair use and information sharing.

LINK

Can a Trademark a Day Make Apple’s Competition Go Away?

Russell Shaw takes his obsession with Apple’s “iPod” trademark addiction to ZDNet in this expose of Apple’s latest USPTO encounters and recent C&D letters to the likes of Podcast Ready for daring to use the “P” word in his article: “EXCLUSIVE: Apple Trademark Office docs point to REAL reasons for” Podcast” controversy

we have Apple, maker of the iPod, trying to get right with the Trademark office about achieving formal Trademark and related mark protections for iPod AND its sought-after IPODCAST applications.

Not only would this restrict ANY individual or company from using the term “podcast” or “podcasting,” it would also put a lock on, for example “iPod socks,” not to mention T-shirts declaring “iPods suck.”

Dave Winer proposes a start-up idea for a “real podcast player” that would put Apple’s DRM to shame.

AOL/Netscape’s Jason Calcanis is rightfully dismayed: “Anyway, Apple didn’t come up with the concept of Podcasting but they have benefited from it immensely.”

Former MSFT evangelizer Robert Scoble wonders if team Apfel will up and sue his new employer, Podtech.net

Todd Baur at the Apple Blog asks if Apple is going to sue the framers of the Constitution for proposing the First Amendment: “When the iPod was introduced, no one would have associated pod with an MP3 player. Now that the little guy has become the king, there is no argument that the term is almost synonymous with music players.”

Copyright Rules and the U.

Cory Doctorow, author/activist/Canadian extraordinaire (and a fellow this year at the Center on Public Diplomacy) dropped some fire in the pot here at USC with this editorial published in the school paper:

Universities – USC especially – are at a crossroads: Do they exist to promote scholarship, or do they exist to protect the business models of entertainment companies at any cost?

What kind of B.S. copyright hypersensitivity is caging and enraging students at other universities?