The stifling of creative progress within the realm of communication technology is of particular interest to me. At one point in the book, Boyle (1996) asked the following question:
Does a computer program such as Windows infringe the copyright of the Apple operating system if
it has a similar ‘look’ or ‘feel,’ regardless of whether that look or feel is produced by lines of
computer code which share nothing with the original work? (p.19)
While this question was meant to be rhetorical in a sense, what is interesting is that in the past 17 years since this book was published, that same issue has been brought to court by both Microsoft and Apple against each other and against other technology companies. Most recently, Apple has been in an international legal battle with Samsung over proprietary issues surrounding Samsung’s tablet computers. Specifically, Apple has sued Samsung for illegally recreating the look and feel of the iPad’s “unique user experience” for their own products, even though, Apple claims, they “own” those rights (Price, 2012). These lawsuits between Samsung and Apple have been traded between the companies for nearly three years now, and while several different parts of the lawsuits have been thrown out across the world, other parts have actually blocked both companies from releasing various products in numerous countries. It is within these examples that Boyle’s (1996) semi-rhetorical question becomes eerily prescient; not just because he was able to foresee the sort of nit-picky legal battles over intellectual and design property rights that are commonplace today, but also because he was able to correct foresee how this is stifling creativity. Because each technology company owns little snippets of code, design, data, etc., it is nearly impossible for the start-up company with visionary ideas to succeed. Inevitably, that start-up company will find itself in some sort of copyright violation because the corners on their new tech gadget just happen to be at the same radius as a product made by Apple, Samsung, Sony or whatever other company that quietly patented that specific “look” and “feel.” As consumers, this trend should be concerning, as we are given less choices by fewer companies. Unfortunately, it would seem that most people are not concerned with this, they are more concerned with when their new iPhone will be released.
Based upon the reading this week, I have the following questions up for discussion:
"As academics who can be both the victim and the perpetrators of “fair use” laws, how do each of us feel about the idea of un-sourced uses of information (aka plagiarism)?"
"Boyle (1996) makes a compelling argument about the complexities of ownership of genetic
material. In the case of John Moore, his genetic material was unique enough to be of use to
scientists. At which point does the “expression” of how our bodies made our genetic material become unique enough that we should be able to retain ownership of it? In other words, when
does our unique expression of genetic material outweigh the expression of use as prescribed by
Boyle, J. (1996). Shamans, software, & spleens: Law and the construction of the information society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Price, E. (2012, August 13). Why Apple won’t be suing Microsoft over the surface. Mashable. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2012/08/13/apple-wont-suing-microsoft-surface/