Pirates of the Amazon

Pirates of the Amazon is/was an interesting experiment that quickly got a cease-and-desist letter from Amazon.com. For a day, however, the site hosted a Firefox extension that assisted the user in pirating works for sale at Amazon. As TorrentFreak put it,

An add-on for the Firefox browser called ‘Pirates of the Amazon’ makes it possible to shop at the Amazon store but leave without paying a dime. Instead, on Amazon product pages the add-on integreates links to ‘free’ copies on The Pirate Bay.

. . .

When the add-on is installed, it integrates a new “download 4 free” button into the Amazon product page when the same article is also available via The Pirate Bay. It works for CDs, DVDs, games, books and basically all products that can be converted to a digital format.

Now that is an interesting mashup. As TorrentFreak noted there are plenty of Greasemonky scripts out there that do much the same thing for Last.FM, IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, etc. It’s not like it is rocket science to do this with Greasemonkey.

If you’re curious, TorrentFreak is maintaining a backup of the Firefox extension here.

James Boyle’s New Book ‘The Public Domain’

Yale University Press has just published James Boyle’s new book about the damage being wreaked by intellectual property laws, The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind. Boyle also has a website for the book at ThePublicDomain.org, where the book can be downloaded for free as a PDF (the book is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommerical-Sharealike license).

According to the web site,

Our music, our culture, our science, and our economic welfare all depend on a delicate balance between those ideas that are controlled and those that are free, between intellectual property and the public domain. In The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind James Boyle introduces readers to the idea of the public domain and describes how it is being tragically eroded by our current copyright, patent, and trademark laws. In a series of fascinating case studies, Boyle explains why gene sequences, basic business ideas and pairs of musical notes are now owned, why jazz might be illegal if it were invented today, why most of 20th century culture is legally unavailable to us, and why today’s policies would probably have smothered the World Wide Web at its inception.

. . .

With a clear analysis of issues ranging from Thomas Jefferson’s philosophy of innovation to musical sampling, from Internet file sharing and genetic engineering to patented peanut butter sandwiches, this articulate and charming book brings a positive new perspective to important cultural and legal debates, including what Boyle calls the “range wars of the information age”: today’s heated battles over intellectual property. Intellectual property rights have been viewed as geeky, technical and inaccessible. Boyle shows that, as a culture, we can no longer afford the luxury of this kind of willed ignorance.   The “enclosure of the commons of the mind” matters and it matters to all of us. “Boyle has been the godfather of the Free Culture Movement since his extraordinary book, Shamans, Software, and Spleens set the framework for the field a decade ago,” says Lawrence Lessig,  “In this beautifully written and subtly argued book, Boyle has succeeded in resetting that framework, and beginning the work in the next stage of this field. The Public Domain is absolutely crucial to understanding where the debate has been, and where it will go. And Boyle’s work continues to be at the center of that debate.”

Is “Intellectual Property” A Misnomer?

Tim Lee makes his case over at TechLiberation.Com for banishing the phrase “intellectual property.”

He gets off on the wrong foot with a bit about the current obsession, especially on the left, with the way in which issues are “framed,”

The words we use to describe the policies we advocate have a profound effect on how we think about them. Our choice of language has powerful effects in framing how we think about a subject.

The leading proponent of this idea is lefty George Lakoff and it is frankly nonsense. Certainly words may influence the debate at the margins, or where totalitarian governments are able to dictate what language is used (such as Nazi Germany’s “framing” of anti-Semitism), but even in the most extreme examples, the effects “framing” is vastly over-rated.

Typically when you find someone citing “framing” as a serious issue, you’ve found someone who is on the losing side of an issue. See, it isn’t that people have rejected your pet cause, but rather that your side just didn’t get “framed” properly. Once the “frame” is shifted, of course you’ll prevail.

What Lee dislikes is that the phrase intellectual property “suggests a misleading analogy to traditional property law,” but the major difference seems to be Lee’s view that traditional property law involves the state recognizing pre-existing property rights arrangements (which is a vastly oversimplified accounting of the rise of property rights), whereas intellectual property rights were created ex nihilo by governments.

Personally, I think “intellectual property” is very useful precisely because it is analogous with traditional property law. It accurately conveys exactly what contemporary copyrights and trademarks convey to holders of those monopolies — ownership of the work or mark in question, specifically the legal right to exclude others from using the copyrighted work or mark without permission.

As Cato’s Jim Harper puts it in the comments to Lee’s piece,

“Property” is a way of saying “thing.” The addition of the word “real” to make the phrase “real property” helps distinguish between movable things and immovable things. There’s no reason why we couldn’t adapt it to things that are products of cognition and volition and call them “intellectual property.” They have further distinct ‘properties’ that we should explore and discuss.

. . .

I think it’s better to take people on a long journey through all the conceptual and intellectual steps, using the most natural language possible, than to shortcut the process by banishing certain useful terms.