November 30, 2006

Intellectual Property and protection versus opportunity

Intellectual Property, Copyright and the violation thereof are often seen as huge threats to business. RedHat's Bob Young tells us that where kids share music for free on Kazaa, iTunes’ Steve Jobs saw the opportunity to sell the same music at a cheap price in return for good service – more free material, wider selections, excellent search…

Copyright has to have an end-date. In the US Disney managed to push through almost unchecked that copyright will last 100 years. In the UK, EMI’s future is in the balance as courts ruled their Beatles catalogue will be up for public consumption, arranging and copying at the end of 50 years – that’s coming very soon.

Our wonderfully glizzy social networks are not new. Bob Young was selling his Linux toolsets through mailing lists of enthusiastic networking passionate people. It’s only natural that this went onto the web when the web came around, but it’s not one guy’s idea.

“I got you babe” was built not on the inspiration of one man, but on the basis of years and years of music from Mozart to tribal music which merged and created rock and roll. There is no ‘new’ thought per se. We stand on the shoulders of giants.

So the next time someone says their thoughts, ideas or practices are copyright, private, unique – just ask yourself the question, “on whose shoulders did they build it”?


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Invention is really the art of creative synthesis - there's nothing new under the sun, to coin a phrase, just new ways of bringing things together and, as you say, building on what has gone before.

The secret, and therefore the understatement, is in that 'just new ways'!

Glad you're enjoying the conference, Ewan...

Does the copyright not extend to 50 years after the death of the author? In the case of the Beatles, this could surely complicate things somewhat when one partner of a coalition effort outlives the other.

I think Doug might have been giving out a bit of misinterpretation there. The copyright in the Beatles lyrics and music lasts for 70 years after the last author to die. Thats not soon Doug. However there is a copyright in the recorded performances and that is 50 years after they were made. Sir Cliff Richard was lobbying the government to encourage that to go on longer as some of his royalty checks are going to stop. It was leaked recently by the BBC that the Gowers review was unlikely to recommend that this term be extended as it would not significantly benefit the UK economy. Sometimes I think entrepreneurs and investors enjoy fuzzy thinking on the law it makes them feel safer than harsh facts.

Thanks for the clarification - what you said is what I and the others understood so I feel I've not been precise enough in my blog post here. The Beatles reference was really made as a throwaway remark, but, the recordings of the Beatles songs are up for grabs soon. I guess that is what Doug is hinting at here.

I agree with others who say that there is nothing new under the Sun - at a gut level. However, there is a world of difference between the twinkling of an idea emerging from the synthesis of existing ones, and the input required for such intuitions to be wrought into the a finished product – the sort of finish which would allow others to pick up and run with the "new" idea. My personal view is that copyright exists so that people who invest earning time in an idea, work of art, product etc. might see some return on this investment from those whose lives benefit from it in some way.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.

His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.

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