Re: PostGutenberg Copyrights and Wrongs for Give-Away Research

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 23 Jul 2002 13:00:09 +0100

On Mon, 22 Jul 2002, Richard Stallman wrote:

>sh> But this formula simply does not fit text. The text I write is indeed my
>sh> intellectual property, even if it is give-away text. All that means is
>sh> that no one else is allowed to claim to have authored it.
> The usual meaning of the term "intellectual property" is something
> different: it means "copyright, patent, trademark, and various other
> things." If the meaning above is what you intend to say, and if you
> would like people to understand your intended meaning, I suggest you
> find a different way to say it.

I suppose the problem arises from the historical fact that what had
been the main motivation of authors of texts for wanting to assert and
protect their authorship of their texts was so that they (or rather,
their publishers) could sell copies of them (and hence expenses could
be covered and profits and royalties could be earned).

In the earlier, pre-codification "oral tradition," when the only
"product" that poets, tale-tellers and musicians had in mind was their own
real-time performance skill (a "service," I suppose), all they wanted was
payment for their time! Their lifetime benefits came from the reputation
of their performing skills, and I suppose they thought of those as their
only legacy too.

With the advent codification, a new potential "product" was born,
the text (or score), and protection from theft of authorship and
protection from theft of text were wrapped into the same thing:
"copyright protection." (There was little precedent from prior products,
as paintings and sculptures were hand-made by the artist; perhaps
bootleg prints were the inspiration for copyright?)

That was also why publishers told authors that transfering the copyright
to them was necessary to allow them (the publishers) to pursue and
prosecute any legal infractions of their (the authors') rights, whether
theft of authorship (plagiarism) or theft of text (making/selling
unauthorized copies).

So, although it is clear (in so many ways) that the real problem here
is conceptual, and logical, not just terminological, I will be happy to
follow Richard's advice and henceforth refer to owning and protecting
one's "text's authorship" rather than one's "intellectual property" or
one's "moral rights" -- for the give-away texts (mainly research reports,
before and after peer review) with which this Forum is concerned.

Changing one's vocabulary helps, but alas it is no substitute for
understanding and thinking clearly. And for that, I find the
giveaway/nongiveaway distinction far, far more important -- yet hitherto
completely unmarked with a terminological distinction of its own.

    "Five Essential PostGutenberg Distinctions"

> But it is important that you should not do the same thing either! What
> is good for and true of software is not necessarily good for and true of
> texts.
> I agree and will take it a step further: even when something is good
> and true for written works, such as software or scientific texts, it
> is not necessarily good and true for ideas about programming
> techniques, pharmaceuticals, or plant varieties, or genes. Copyright
> on software is not the same issue as copyright on scientific articles,
> and neither of them is the same issue as patents.
> The term "intellectual property", which lumps together copyrights and
> patents leads people to limit consideration to simplistic
> across-the-board approaches. If you would like to encourage people to
> distinguish the issues of different kinds of works, it makes sense for
> you join me in discouraging the term that lumps everything together as
> one issue.

Agreed! I shall no longer utter the word "intellectual property" (except
to disparage it as inadequate and Procrustean).

Stevan Harnad
Received on Tue Jul 23 2002 - 13:00:09 BST

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