Archive for the ‘trademarks’ Category

scratch and greenfoot licensing blues

November 30, 2008

UPDATE (March, 2009): Greenfoot and its cousin BlueJ are now Free software!

Bill Kerr has an interesting post regarding the unfortunate status of Scratch licensing. Bill has reiterated his and others’ comments which get right to the heart of the matter. Worry over forking can be put to rest with licensing requiring derivative works to be clearly marked out so that they don’t infringe on an original work’s trademark.

This is an interesting example I hope the developers of Greenfoot consider closely. Not too long ago, I asked them why they restrict commercial use and “disassembly” of Greenfoot. Here are key excerpts from an email (June 2008) explaining their thoughts:

The [software] is closed because we want to avoid feature creep. […] The major strength of [the software] is its simplicity and careful selection and integration of features. […] We are providing a high level of user support. Our users are generally beginners. If the system were forked, we would have difficulty dealing with the forked version in a support context.

If the Greenfoot team wishes to avoid “feature creep” then they can simply refuse contributions to the official Greenfoot version. If the “major strength” of Greenfoot is simplicity and integration, then users will stick with the official Greenfoot release. If they don’t, giving students the freedom to go their own way with an unofficial release can’t cause harm. And finally, if Greenfoot is forked, the Greenfoot team can simply refuse to support the modified versions. When I sent this reply to a Greenfoot developer, it was met (like Bill’s experience with Scratch) with silence. Silence isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it may mean they’re contemplating alternatives.

Scratch and Greenfoot are potentially valuable learning tools. Maybe the developers are now considering maximizing that potential through licensing that encourages tinkering, widespread distribution and protection for official versions. Here’s hoping.

the counterproduction of “intellectual property”

April 11, 2008

Keith Johnson on “intellectual property” in comments at Doug Johnson’s blog:

Chilling Effects aims to help you understand the protections that the First Amendment and intellectual property laws give to your online activities.

That is true for trademark law (e.g. as a consumer through the web). And, assuming the existence of fair use doctrine, this is also true for copyright law. Patent law however, has nothing to do with protecting my online activities.  This overgeneralization is produced by lumping together insubstantially related laws. As well, the term “property” signals a bias in treating the naturally intangible as somehow tangible.

Hopefully, Keith will consider editing the site (the same quote appears there too) to better educate its readers about how copyright law and trademark law can protect you online.

my hubris?

April 8, 2008

Doug Johnson (in comments):

Peter, I find terms like “stupidity” to be deliberately inflammatory. Let’s try to keep the degree of civility high on the Blue Skunk. I appreciate discussing ideas and sharing different opinions, but in atmosphere of respect.

My response (in comments):

Lumping these laws into an insubstantial aggregate called “intellectual property” is unproductive and misleading. Therefore, as an educator who wants to promote clear thinking and understanding, what would you call doing so?

Steve Tobak argues for “Intellectual Property”

February 11, 2008

Steve Tobak spreads confusion at C|NET by arguing for “Intellectual Property”. With complete disregard for commercial vs. noncommercial use, Steve states that downloading unauthorized works while criticizing those who sell unauthorized copies is a “double standard”. He then trumpets the virtues of patents in general, while failing to distinguish between software idea patents, patents on tangible objects, or patents on pharmaceutical products designed for healthcare – all of which bring up very different issues. Steve says:

By definition, a patent, a copyright, or a trademark–intellectual property–entitles the owner to reasonable compensation for its use by others. It’s the law.

The word “compensation” implies that whenever you listen to or view a copy, the original author has worked for you and that he should be compensated accordingly. This absurdly puts listening and viewing copies on par with situations resembling a live performance. However, if one were to manufacture then sell a similar but patented toy or sell a product using another’s trademark, “compensation” is an inaccurate descriptor. What has occurred here is best described as “damages”, not a situation where work deserving of “compensation” has been done. Steve sums up:

We are a nation of laws. Without them, I doubt we would have the quality of life we have. And without intellectual property rights, I doubt we’d have technology-enriched lives. It’s not a perfect system, but it works pretty well. You either buy into that or you don’t. You can’t have it both ways.

Steve demonstrates that lumping these disparate laws together often produces incoherent, misleading, and all-or-nothing arguments. Arguing either for or against “Intellectual Property” invariably spreads confusion. If we wish to construct reasonable laws then we must avoid the temptation to argue in such abstract terms (“Intellectual Property”) and acknowledge their disparity.

top law professors spread “IP” confusion

October 21, 2007

Henry E. Smith:

Intellectual property rights are conventionally said to solve an incentive problem but not an allocation problem. (pdf page 3)

Those who favor treating copyright, patents, and trademarks as property tend to use the vague and misleading term “Intellectual Property” when trying to persuade others toward their line of thinking. This leads to overgeneralization, thus breeding confusion. Trademark law isn’t about incentives. It’s a stamp of approval to protect consumers, not a solution to an “incentive problem”.

Via Zohar.

must read for trademark fans

October 16, 2007

A great post sent to me by Dave B. who says “The punchline is the best part”.