Sunday, November 4, 2012

Intellectual Property Rights

This is an interesting topic I once discussed with a cigar buddy at the Havana Garage in Omaha.  I had sent out an invitation to my church to meet up for cigars and scotch at a cigar bar, unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, only one person was able to attend.  We held an interesting conversation for hours about intelectual property and copyright law (he's a copyright lawyer for a firm there in downtown Omaha).  One of the more interesting tidbits I learned is that one does NOT have to have a copyright to sue for intellectual property rights (in the US).  If you write a poem, song, business plan, or anything that requires (virtually) any amount of creative effort on a napkin at a restaurant and someone overhears you talking about it and steals your idea, EVEN if they have a copyright, and you can PROVE that it's your idea that that person stole, you can win in a copyright case.  Though granted it's much easier to prove something is one's intellectual property with a copyright, but it's not necessary.  That's what copyrights are supposed to do, protect or give legitimacy to the claim to one's intellectual property.  A copyright in and of itself is not proof, just good evidence.

Anyways, another thing I talked about at that time was how I thought it kind of silly that large companies sometimes sue little mom-and-pop businesses that make a small amount of money off selling copyrighted material.  (My lawyer friend replied that large companies often overlook small organizations so long as they don't make too much money, because it's not worth the cost of a lawsuit to pursue every single copyright infringement.)  If you look on there are any number of copyright questionable sellers that run the risk of drawing the attention of some big company that decides to crack down on these small-time sellers.  To me, for some reason the 'big guy' picking on these tiny establishments is completely unfair.

I know it's a double standard but it bothers me just as much that there's a person on Etsy that has copyrighted a silly simple technique for making a fabric baby toy called a taggy, and that person is (or was, I see multiple taggy makers now) constantly hunting down fellow makers and forcing them to remove their goods from Etsy based on copyright infringement.  Then I came across this from a English language teaching program I'm interested in getting involved in:

This is about the future of creativity and innovation, a David v Goliath flashpoint that we hope to rally your support around.
We are a tiny company called Languages Out There (LOT) and publish the world's first social media English course called English Out There (EOT).

EOT works with Facebook and Skype and can transform the English speaking ability of long-term frustrated learners. It is inexpensive for the students but can help teachers to start their own businesses.

We have developed our content over 11 years and have only made a tiny profit in the last two years. It has not been at all easy.

Over ALMOST THREE YEARS we provided privileged and confidential information about our unique content to Oxford University Press (OUP) because they said they were interested in our content.

In March of this year they wrote to us,

"we do not feel that LOT offers the type of materials that we could bring within our catalogue, whether in relation to the current offering or our future plans."

JUST FIVE MONTHS LATER they launched a new five level English course book series with the words,

"Network is the first course to use social networking to help students succeed in English."

The first three English teachers we sent the OUP product link (just the link, nothing else), said this:

Link here.

This is even worse!  I can understand the "little guy" making a tiny bit of money off innovating or recreating a copyrighted item but when a large corporation steals copyrighted material from a tiny company that's just despicable.  As I said, I know it's a double standard and no one should get away with stealing someone else's hard work, but hopefully English Out There can win this one and stop Oxford University Press from stealing their material.