Three stories in the news this week demonstrate that intellectual-property policy is set by crazy people. NBC is threatening to dump iTunes unless Apple violates the laws of nature. An organization of science fiction writers is sending willy-nilly takedown notices for property it doesn't control. And Viacom pirated a YouTube video, and then sent down a takedown notice against the video's real author.
The New York Times reported that NBC will not renew its distribution agreement with iTunes when it comes due in December. Among the terms NBC wants: Tougher digital rights management -- this despite the fact that it's been demonstrated, over and over again, that DRM doesn't work, can't be made to work, and any beliefs to the contrary are simply delusional.
InformationWeek contributor Cory Doctorow describes how the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) sent a broad takedown notice to scribd, a text-filesharing site, demanding that scribd remove a huge number of files. The problem, says Cory, is that the takedown notice is simply wrong. It includes works that are in the public domain, works that are licensed under Creative Commons, recommended reading lists, the back issues of a magazine, Ray Gun Revival, posted to scribd by the magazine's publishers -- and Doctorow's own novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, which Doctorow released under Creative Commons. SFWA appears to be behaving like a vigilante who, in the name of stopping violent crime, shoots up a whole subway car. Doctorow notes that, by misrepresenting itself as an authorized agent of copyright holders, SFWA has exposed itself to enormous legal liability.
Viacom sent a takedown notice to North Carolina school board candidate Christopher Knight for posting a copy of a Viacom-owned VH1 clip to YouTube. The VH1 clip was a commentary on a TV commercial Knight created to support his political candidacy. Viacom is claiming that Knight pirated the VH1 clip -- when in fact, says Knight, Viacom are the pirates here; they used Knight's original political commercial without his permission.
These shenanigans are further proof -- as if further proof were needed -- that intellectual property policy has gone mad. A sane intellectual property policy will recognize the fact that you simply can't use technology means to prevent the duplication of data. Can't be done. Won't work. Sure, you can try to legislate DRM. You also can legislate that water should run uphill, or pi should precisely equal 3.0. The real world won't comply with your legislation.
When are we going to put greedy children like NBC, SFWA, and Viacom down for nap-time, and let grownups start writing intellectual property policy?