Intellectual property and software

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Notes for a soctech seminar on intellectual property and software

  • Typical proprietary software licenses
    • Users click through these agreements all the time. Most users don't know what's in them; I certainly don't.
    • What goes into them? What do they mean?
    • Perhaps we read a software license (yes, an actual license) and have some law types explain it to us, and then we talk about it.
    • The obvious comparison is to OSS licenses.
  • Standards bodies
    • What happens to society when infrastructural standards (e.g., audio interchange formats) become encumbered with IP claims?
    • Conversely, there must be costs to ensuring that infrastructural standards are unencumbered...?
  • Case study: Accessibility technology
    • Kate has been working w/ accessibility technologies, and mentioned at a couple of meetings that she's run into problems due to IP. A rundown of these problems, plus some discussion of the Skylarov case?
  • Issues for developing economies
    • Developing countries often cannot afford to buy technology that is encumbered by heavy IP restrictions at First World prices and on First World terms.
    • Also, developing countries often have rudimentary IP law frameworks.
    • Companies like MS are working out special pricing/licensing arrangements; what is happening there?
  • Historical perspectives
    • The Free Software Foundation claims that, historically, open source is simply how software was written, and that it was only later (in the 80's?) that IP protection started to be important to software in a serious way.
    • What is the background behind this claim?
    • What happened in the 80's, from a technological perspective? From a legal perspective?
  • IP hacks: When intellectual property law meets creative programming...
    • Hypothesis: Broadly defined IP law outlaws too many things; conversely, computer scientists can defeat most narrowly defined IP law by creative programming.
      • For example, imagine an IP law scheme where quoting a few seconds of a song is considered "fair use". Now consider a data distribution protocol whereby many tiny samples of a song are distributed onto thousands of nodes on the network; users of the network reassemble the samples on demand. The copying of each individual sample can be considered "fair use", but the network as a whole can be used to distribute arbitrary amounts of copyrighted data.
    • Hypothesis: the above hypothesis does not occur to most lawmakers.
    • It would be illuminating to have a session wherein we
      • bring up examples of IP law
      • have the CS people brainstorm technical ways to circumvent the spirit of that law while obeying its letter.
      • have the law people consider how law can be reconceived to defeat these attacks, while preserving the worthy uses of the underlying technology.
      • Hopefully, at the end of one or two sessions, we consolidate some principles for tech law from this exercise.