Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Online Intellectual Property: What About "Non-Documents"?

By Dennis D. McDonald

I received the following email from fellow blogger Chris Law (1000 Flowers Bloom) in response to my article Web 2.0 and Maintaining the Integrity of Online Intellectual Property:

I really like your article. One thing that I think is very much related is what happens if it’s not a document? What if it’s say the classified listings on my site that are then being mashed up with a Google Map?

Here is how I responded:

Chris, I purposely decided not to address the "what it it's not a document" issue too much since that can lead to some very complex legal and information-theory types of discussions that tend to put people to sleep -- unless it's your ox that's being gored!

My gut feeling though is that the concerns discussed in the article are very similar between "document" and "non-document" types of information. As long as they are "authored" or "created" in some fashion and have the characteristics of intellectual property, many of the same concerns apply.

For me the bottom line can be very simple but it has to be evaluated very objectively -- if you're going to be using my intellectual property to help you make money, I want to know about it and have an opportunity to determine if I deserve a share in the proceeds. This is why I wrote what I did months ago about Goggle's print library project. Yes, the service is wonderful wonderful wonderful, but what gives them the right to make money off my intellectual property without asking my permission first?

Note that I am NOT trying to be old-fashioned here - I simply feel that given digital technology's capabilities people need to be MORE aware of the rights and responsibilities related to intellectual property, not less.

I've been thinking about my response to Chris and have a few more points to make on this complex topic.

First, while I still agree with my "intellectual property is intellectual property no matter what the medium" stance, I am aware that the concept of incorporating ownership information might have to be modified for non-document information such as the geographic information mash-up that Chris references. For example, ownership information might have to be connected with the channel of the data stream as defined by its source and target. I've thought about this while experimenting with my personal use of RSS syndication products and feel this is an area I want to explore further for its practical implications. (I've pasted in a feed at the bottom of this article as a simple demonstration of how easy it is to republish aggregated feeds; these are some of the feeds I read, displayed here using the simple code generator provided by Wizz Software.)

Second, I've been listening a lot to discussions of Internet related privacy lately and one theme is that "young people are less concerned about Internet privacy than other people." Assuming that is true, I wonder if this is related to another possible generalization that "young people are less concerned about intellectual property issues than other people." The activities of young music downloaders are what have driven the RIAA to distraction in recent years but I think two things are relevant here:

  1. Young people change. Behaviors and beliefs about both privacy and intellectual property may not remain the same over time.
  2. Just as people's attitudes about privacy are sharpened if they are harmed by release of their own personal data, so too might attitudes about intellectual property change when young people become creators and knowledge workers whose livelihood depends on compensation for content creation or distribution.

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