Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hidden Treasures

The other day I came across a program that I have to pass on to any fellow poly-sci nuts. I'm a sucker for all things political, and found a treasure at our local library. It's an old British Sitcom called "Yes Minister". Now this certainly isn't Black Adder, or Fawlty Towers, but if you like politics, then this is the program for you.

When I watch an episode I find myself both laughing, and cringing at the same time. Laughing because it's so funny, and cringing because it really nails the subtle problems that arise out of the constant struggle between elected officials and the bureaucracy. I know, doesn't exactly sound like side-splitting television, but it's an acquired taste.

I've often said if I could only make high school students read two civics texts, the second would be the Constitution, and the first would be P. J. O'Rourke's classic Parliment of Whores. Well, now if I'm teaching that class, and have access to a television, I'm now going to include Yes Minister as requried content.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Itellectual Property Rights

Nice report out of the UK today. It offers four models for intellectual property rights.

"The study details four models which balance these competing interests in different ways. First, there's the American model, where knowledge is understood solely as an asset. Some fair use, parody, and public domain rights are recognized, but consumer rights are restricted, copyright terms are extended, and DRM trumps fair use. This is because knowledge is viewed as a form of property, not a social good. As the study notes, there is a danger in this approach: "Where IPRs [intellectual property rights] are understood as comparable to conventional property rights, public domain could potentially disappear altogether, just as the enclosure movement eradicated common land all over the UK in the late 18th century."

"The second model currently describes the UK, where knowledge is an asset first and a public resource second. This means that producers are generally protected first, and while more consumer rights may be upheld, the relationship between DRM and fair use is not resolved, and copyright terms may be continuously extended.

"The third model is that of a society where knowledge is first seen as a public resource and only secondarily as an asset. Comparing this to the "open access" movement in academic publishing, the authors note that such an approach is not anti-business. Under this model, public interest is the basis for IP policy, copyright terms are not extended, and fair use trumps DRM.

"Finally, the fourth model is "cyber-socialism," where knowledge is seen only as a public resource and copyright is not allowed. The profits of creativity are returned to the public and a "new ethic of playfulness and voluntarism" is the norm. The authors see these ideals at work in open source projects like Linux and Wikipedia, but point out that "it is not clear how such a model could be used to fit in investment-heavy models of innovation and creativity, such as the development of drugs or films."

I aggree with their recommendations:

"When it comes to issuing recommendations, the report is clear: the UK should move gradually from the second model to the third. The obvious objection that arises is that such a model is "anti-business" and does not reward producers for their investments of time and money. The authors of the report shrewdly point out, though, that "the goal of a policy framework that suits business in general is illusory." Business is not a monolith; while certain approaches to intellectual property might be better for certain types of businesses, companies can thrive even under the fourth model (think of open source firms like Red Hat). Furthermore, the authors believe that making knowledge a social good first will actually foster increased innovation and therefore more money for UK businesses."