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Sidney Paget: Sherlock Holmes

Sidney Paget: Sherlock Holmes

Dave Itzkoff hit the nail on its head with the following opener to his New York Times article on the heirs to Sherlock Holmes in 2010:

“For a 123-year-old detective, Sherlock Holmes is a surprisingly reliable earner.”

In a more recent guest post at the 1709 blog, Miri Frankel reports about a new legal battle with regard to the copyright expiration date of some works of Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the fictional character Sherlock Holmes:

In February Leslie Klinger, a Los Angeles attorney, filed a lawsuit against the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle — the creator and author of a series of fictional works featuring legendary investigator and crime-solver Sherlock Holmes. Mr Klinger is the author of numerous books and articles relating to the “Canon of Sherlock Holmes” […] For years, the Conan Doyle Estate has demanded and collected licensing fees from authors who created works drawing from or based on the Sherlock Holmes character or other elements from the world of Sherlock Holmes. […] But Mr Klinger’s view, and the view of other, sympathetic authors who have created new stories based on elements from the public domain works of Sir Conan Doyle, is that these licensing fees are not necessary, and the Conan Doyle Estate should not be allowed to threaten them with lawsuits to extract licensing fees.  The Complaint asserts that only new, original elements first published in the stories that remain under copyright protection are still protectable; copyright no longer protects, however, any elements that had already been published in earlier Sherlock Holmes works, so all such elements are now in the public domain.

Interestingly, Klinger makes his arguments not only in court but has also launched a website entitled “Free Sherlock!“, where he is even asking for donations “to offset legal fees and expenses of the litigation.” Read the rest of this entry »

Today, Google announced its acquisition of Motorola Mobility for not less than $12.5 billion in cash. And I completely agree with Forbes’ contributor Eric Jackson, who states that

Androids

Saad Irfan, CC BY-NC-ND

[i]f you think this is about Google getting into the handset business, think again. If Google were to get into the handset business, they would turn their back on partners like HTC, Samsung and others.
Today’s deal is all about acquiring Motorola’s backlog of mobile-related patents. When Google lost out on the batch of Nortel patents, they worried that Android was significantly at risk.

A risk stemming from the fact that, in spite of developing Android under an open source license, powerful patent holders such as Microsoft were able to squeeze out licensing fees from corporate Android users. The bizarre result being that Google, the main developer of Android, gives away its contributions to the operating system for free while its not-contributing competitor Microsoft charged hardware producer HTC $5 for any shipped Android (!) smartphone (see business insider). Read the rest of this entry »

As mentioned in my last post, this summer I am visiting the WZB to work on a paper about the digital public domain. Rifling through a huge pile of papers on the issue, I recently stumbled across Robert P. Merges’ 2004 essay “A New Dynamism in the Public Domain” (PDF) – and I really regret not having read this piece much earlier. He summarizes the main point of his paper as follows:

The simple point of this Essay is that these investments are invigorating the public domain with a new dynamism stemming from private action. These investments demonstrate that private action, and not just government policy, can augment the public domain. (p. 184)

Such private investments into the public domain, Merges argues, are inspired by the very expansions of intellectual property rights they seek to counteract: Read the rest of this entry »

Steven Johnson, 2010: Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. New York: Riverhead Books.

Steven Johnson is all about crossing borders. His books deal with a great variety of topics, ranging from London’s most terrifying cholera epidemic  (“The Ghost Map“) to a praise of popular culture (“Everything Bad is Good for You“). And also in his most recent book, Steven Johnson crosses disciplinary and historical borders, when he, in his own words, “analyzed 300 of the most influential innovations in science, commerce and technology — from the discovery of vacuums to the vacuum tube to the vacuum cleaner”.

The list of reviews and summaries of the book availble online is endless, including a TED talk given by the author himself and a great video summary featured above. So I am not going to reproduce any of these but very selectively refer to one of the examples presented in the book that relates most to the issues discussed in this blog. This example is the web-based patent marketplace GreenXChange, where Nike publicly released more than 400 of its patents that involve environmentally friendly materials or technologies. Johnson discribes rationale and realization of the project as follows (p. 125):

“By keeping its eco-friendly ideas behind a veil of secrecy, Nike was holding back – without any real commercial justification – ideas that might, in another context, contribute to a sustainable future. In collaboration with Creative Commons, Nike released its patents under a modified license permitting use in ‘non-competitive’ fields.  (They also created a standardized, pre-negotiated contract for patents, thereby reducing the transaction costs of haggling over each patent license individually.)”

This is the first example, at least to my knowledge, where Creative Commons was active in standardizing licenses outside of the field of copyright regulation (see the respective announcement on its blog). Moreover, it demonstrates how similar problems and solutions in both so-called “hemispheres” of intellectual proporty – patents and copyright – might be after all. Hopefully, I will soon find the time to do some comparative studies on private regulation in both these fields.

(leonhard)

In his recent article “Decoding Divergence in Software Regulation”* Thomas Eimer very convincingly demonstrates and explains differences in software patent regulation between the United States and the European Union. He basically distinguishes three “structural causes for the persisting divergence” (p. 276) – namely the US practice of patenting software versus the European reluctance of doing so:  (1) incompatible underlying paradigms, (2) differentiated patterns of power structure, and (3) unsynchronized institutional arrangements.

Especially in dealing with the first cause, “paradigmatic cleavage”, Eimer argues rather broadly, embracing both patent and copyright law. And I completely agree, when he contrasts the strong “utilitarian” rationale of intellectual property rights in the US with European scepticism for such utilitarian reasoning. I am not so sure, however, that the partial rejection of utilitarian welfare assumptions automatically leads to a better balance between “public and private interests” in the field of intellectual property regulation in general, as implied by Eimer when he writes: “Opponents of strong intellectual property rights in Europe can refer to a long tradition of suspicion”. Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
December 2017
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