The Path Between Two Houses: Thoughts on Intellectual Property

The picture above shows the path from our backdoor to our neighbor’s.  The path is most frequently used by our children who want to spend the afternoons together.  Many of these get-togethers  are motivated by the desire to “share” something with their friends.  My son often wants to show off his latest Lego creation, a comic book he’s writing and illustrating, or his newest rap song he’s working on using Garage Band.

Often the boys make this short trek carrying a plate of cookies, a basket of hot, fresh donuts, or a loaf of homemade bread – to share.

In community, we share many things from time, space, labor, advice, heartache, love and joy.  We teach our children to share, even though their first words usually include, “Mine!”  The sharing strengthens our connection to one another, acknowledges the value in others, and inspires us all to be better human beings.

If only the sharing of creative ideas were this simple.

I’ve never been good at choosing sides in a debate.  I usually see some value in both positions.  Freely sharing information and ideas promotes equality and democracy, but copyright laws and intellectual property rights ensures that my children could pursue a profession in music, the arts, or performing.  I value the free exchange of ideas.  I want people to be able to become a professional in a creative field.  This debate is not an easy one.

Thankfully, I do not have to solve the debate in this post.

I began my research by looking up basic information around the topic of intellectual property.

I found an interesting book containing a host of essays devoted to this topic.  The book is called, Copy Fights. In an article titled, “Who Owns Ideas? The War over Intellectual Property”, at  Foreign Affairs references this book.  “As the contributors to Copy Fights demonstrate, intellectual property protection is not a field of bright lines and clear rules. Protecting ideas always demands a delicate balance between competing objectives and values: stimulating creativity but thwarting monopoly; creating knowledge yet disseminating it broadly; enforcing rules while responding to change.”

Evans goes on to say that intellectual property is different from other resources in that it isn’t something that we will run out of.  There is not a limited supply of creativity.  He puts it this way, “My consumption does not reduce your consumption” (Evans at “Who Owns Ideas…”.

So, there needs to be a balance.  Laws that can both protect and incentivize creativity and collaboration.

To get a better understanding of the conversation surrounding this controversy, I listened to a podcast from Fordham Intellecutual Property, Media and Entertainment Law Journal all about copyright laws.  (Well, I listened to the first 35 minutes of the podcast while out for a brisk run through the snowy woods. Nothing gets a person pumped up for a good workout like a scholarly symposium!)  Here’s what I learned:

The panelists agreed that the rules and debate around copyright law have changed dramatically over the past 10 years due to technology advancements.  Change continues at an accelerating rate that no legislative body can keep up with.  Laws that currently exist are so murky that even experts in the field and lawyers cannot find common interpretations or applications.  They discussed the murkiness of terms like “Fair use,” “transformative,” and “non-commercial use”  (as a direct reference to Creative Commons licenses).

As the panelists spoke, there seemed to be an agreement that the current laws and policies are just too complex, and none of them wanted to see the average creator be stifled by these rules.

Hearing this information, I thought, okay.  Maybe I’m over thinking it.  Maybe it’s not so scary as it sounds… but then I realized I am not in the category of someone who’s just doing it for fun.  I’m an employee of the state, and I’m doing this work as part of my sabbatical.  Intellectual Property Rights of faculty is a whole other level of murky.  So… I emailed a few people (Administration. Union.)to gain some more perspective.

My response to one of those emails:  I don’t know the answer to your question.  I am asking around and will get back to you. This seems to reaffirm that these things are not clarified.

I dug up an article called, “Who Holds the Rights?” by Colleen Flaherty , dealing with issues pertaining to academia.  Flaherty gives us insight on a report written by the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) providing guiding principles along with a virtual intellectual property tool kit for faculty (Flaherty).

Flaherty goes on to explain more when she cites the AAUP report. “The management of inventions, patents and other forms of intellectual property in a university setting warrant special guidance because it bears on so many aspects of the university’s core missions, values, and functions, including academic freedom, scholarship, research, shared governance, and the transmission and use of academic knowledge by the broader society,” the draft reads. “One fundamental principle should be clear: Inventions are owned initially by their own inventors. That is established in both the U.S. Constitution and U.S. federal patent law” (Flaherty at “Who Holds the Rights?”).

The report concludes that faculty and the employing institution need to negotiate all agreements prior to the work being done.

Douglas Lichtman, a professor of law specializing in intellectual property at the University of California at Los Angeles explains,” ‘Looking forward, this should just be a clear part of any employment agreement, with the university and the relevant faculty member negotiating about this just like they negotiate teaching loads, research support, and constraints on outside funding and employment'” (Flaherty at “Who Holds the Rights?”).

Well, where does that leave me?  I understand that Creative Commons is an organization that can help me share or protect my work while providing me with a variety of rights that I could hold on to or relinquish. If I were just a blogger, I would choose a license that says, “Sure!  Use my work if it helps you.  Just don’t share photos of my kids, and I would like some attribution.”

It’s not going to be so simple.  I’m waiting to hear back from my institution about what types of licenses I can apply to my work.

The stess has got me craving something chocolatey and gooey.  I may have to put on my boots and trudge through the snowy path to borrow a cup of sugar from my neighbor.


6 thoughts on “The Path Between Two Houses: Thoughts on Intellectual Property

Add yours

  1. nice foray into the murky depths of academic intellectual properties. I have to admit, that is not something I have considered before, but is totally relevant to our discussion.


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