Sunday, November 09, 2003

James Grimmelmann at Lawmeme tells us "McDonald's is upset about the appearance of "McJob" in the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary."

Some of my students have just been marveling at the Mike Batt dispute with the late John Cage's estate over copyright on silence. Cage once composed a piece comprised entirely of 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. Batt included a minute's silence in a CD and Cage's estate sued for copyright infringement. I understand that Batt's mother asked him if he knew which part of the silence they were claiming he infringed.

One of the comments on the McDonalds complaint is supportive of the fast food retailer because the dictionary is diluting their trademark.

Looked at by ordinary people these disputes look completely daft. But experts live in a different world to the rest of us when dealing with their narrow professional specialist area. There is an internal logic to the developments within the particular field e.g. in this case intellectual property. But is does not create a good impression for those looking on from outside the expert priesthood.

Copyright and intellectual property more generally are an amazing construct, enabling authors and creators to benefit from their creative endeavors. But the intellectual property specialists do little service to the promotion of the general understanding of their field by engaging in spats like those mentioned above.

And given the likely impact of the rules on intellectual property on the future of the information society, that does no one any favours. The intellectual property priesthood need more translators explaining their subject area in ways ordinary people can understand. That will facilitate informed public debate on developments in an area that is going to affect all of us whether we understand it or not.

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