September 30, 2008

Denis Diderot, the Encyclopedia, and Copyright: A question (or two)

Category: Academic,IP Law — Biella @ 11:19 am

Although I doubt there are any French historians who read this blog, there may be a few IP historical wizards who can help me answer the following question about Denis Diderot, the editor and one of the main writers of the famous Enlightenment Encyclopedia, who apparently was a pro-copyright kinda guy.

According to this Carla Hesse article, Diderot, who participated in the emerging debates around idea of copyright, “argued that products of the mind are more uniquely the property of their creator than land acquired through cultivation” (Hesse, p. 34). She furnishes us with the following quote from Diderot that captures this moral sensibility:

What form of wealth could belong to a man, if not the work of the mind. If not his own thoughts … the most precious part of himself, that will never perish, that will immortalize them? What comparison could there be between a man, the very substance of a man, his soul, and a field, a tree, a vine, that nature has offered in the beginning equally to all, and which the individual has only appropriated through cultivating it”

My first questions is, if this is the case, did he differentiate between the literary efforts of, lets say a novel, which he wrote as well, and his Encyclopedia whereby the former would be eligible for copyright protection (as it has to do with personal thoughts and originality) whereas the later would not because it was less about originality and more about cataloging human affairs, actions, and knowledge (though of course it did require work of the mind). Another more simple way of putting this is: did he desire/seek copyright protection for the Encyclopedia?

It is also worth noting that a good chunk of the Encyclopedia documented the practical arts or in other words, craft. As Richard Sennet describes it in his amazing book on craft making as follows: “It volumes exhaustively described in words and pictures how practical things get done and proposed ways to do them” (2008: 90). Remember too this was a project of collaboration and he apparently collaborated with many scientists as well.

So the subject matter was a domain of knowledge whose utility, so to speak, could come to fruition if it had an ability to be passed on person to person, generation to generation. This makes me want to know even more than I do (and I do want to know) whether he viewed copyright as appropriate for a literary work that basically described the practical arts and which was also created through the hands and minds of many (though he did did seem to sweat and labor more than anyone else.). Any thoughts? Answers?

A Pricey Book on IP

Category: Academic,Books/Articles,IP Law — Biella @ 10:37 am

I want this book. The problem is I don’t want to pay $324.79 for it either. Looks like a great collection of essays. It has one of my favorite articles on the history of intellectual property by Carla Hesse, which you can download for yourself here.

In a mere 20 pages she conveys not only a general history of IP law in Europe and the United States,(which she actually makes riveting) but captures the philosophical contradictions and problems that have marked and marred IP as it has traveled from nation to nation and as it has grown in scope and depth in the last 200 years. I cannot recommend it enough.

September 27, 2008

Zuing Zotero

Category: IP Law,Tech — Biella @ 6:34 pm

I am a big fan of zotero as it has helped me manage my research, especially collect, tag, time stamp, and keep web pages that are likely to vanish. I can’t recommend it enough. I have yet to use its bibliographic functionality and apparently it is this functionality which has made it the subject of what what looks like a pretty questionable law suit.

It has been a while since a IP lawsuit has really caught my attention (only in so far as it was the same old thing, not because it was not important) but this one definitely has caught my attention (and caught me off guard as well as I never really associated End Notes with Zotero, in so far as they seem to work pretty distinctly). I am eager to see how an academic institution, George Mason in this case, will react. I just hope they stand firm and also get some great legal team to help out.

September 24, 2008

Ten Easy Ways to Attract Women to Your Free Software Project

Category: F/OSS,Gender — Biella @ 5:30 pm

Ten Easy Ways to Attract Women to Your Free Software Project?

I am a little to sick with a cold now to say anything substantive. I agree in spirit with a lot of what the author says though I still think that part of the problem emerges way before the free software project. I still want to know, in other words, why girls/women are not hacking away at a younger age, which puts them at a disadvantage when and if they decided to join a project.

Also, though the author as an important caveat in one of his footnotes:

[10] Throughout this article I make a lot of generalizations about how “men” and “women” behave. Obviously men and women are not monolithic groups, and there’s a lot of variation, so this is just short hand. There are some important differences that apply in the real world, though, whether because of nature or nurture. Indeed, in writing this article, I have taken the assumption that many of the issues are really just manifestations of lifestyle differences, and it’s largely because of lifestyle issues that I feel I can identify with many of the problems that women face when dealing with “hacker culture” in general and “free software” in particular.

I am still more than a little bothered by the essentialized portrayal of females/males and the concomicant technlogical determinism as well.


NYC Area Free Software/Free Cultre/Computer Events

Category: Events,F/OSS,Free Culture,New York City — Biella @ 2:57 pm

Last weekend at the Software Freedom Day party, I was a little surprised to find myself among hundreds of attendees and supporters. Even if NYC is not known, like Silicon Valley is, for its vibrant tech scene, this event reminded me that we definitely have a thriving community of programmers and advocates but we have lacked a central “place” to check for computer-related events in the area.

At least until now. James Vasile, a lawyer at the Software Freedom Law Center will now be publishing an event feed. Please send him an email if there is any event you want advertised (contact details on his page), you can subscribe here, and here is a calendar.

Request for Urgent Business Relationshiip

Category: Humor — Biella @ 4:41 am

Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We can not directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to so that we may speedily transfer your commision for this transaction. After I receive that information I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson


The source of this? A former U of C graduate anthropology classmate. This actually may be the original source, or like all really good spam, somewhat (seemingly at least) sourceless.

September 23, 2008

The Big Fail

Category: Humor — Biella @ 3:37 pm

The Big Fail

September 21, 2008

Software Freedom Day

Category: F/OSS,Hackers,IP Law — Biella @ 3:32 am

Parties around the world were held yesterday to celebrate Software Freedom Day. I went to the NYC party which attracted an impressive number of people who were mingling and celebrating on the beautiful rooftop of Limegroup/Limewire office. Here are a few pictures and a short video of Eben Moglen who has done a whole lot to make software freedom a reality today.

September 20, 2008

No Regulation to Lot’s (oh!!!) Regulation

Category: Politics — Biella @ 4:18 am

The other night I was relishing in the irony that during the era when the American government became most regulation averse, fully touting and embracing the idea of free markets, it also had to save a core sector of our market, leading effectively to a partially nationalized financial sector. I was going to write about the irony made visible by our current financial crisis but Karl beat me to it and said it better than I could or did. Most papers have not mulled over this irony but here is one place where it was raised

September 19, 2008

If I were in Manchester, I would go

Category: Academic,Tech — Biella @ 3:24 am

To this…

(and I know there are readers of the blog in Manchester and close by who just may be interested in the a one-day seminar and evening lecture on the 1858 cable and later transatlantic communications link). Full details below.

2008 marks the 150th anniversary of the first communications link laid beneath 1600 nautical miles of the Atlantic Ocean. That telegraph cable was the first in a series of cutting-edge technologies enabling fast and accurate communication between Britain and the United States of America, linking the old and new worlds.

To mark the occasion, the IET in conjunction with the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester, are holding a one-day seminar and evening lecture on the 1858 cable and later transatlantic communications links, including wireless and satellite, on Tuesday 28th October 2008. Both events are open to the public and admission is free of charge, but pre-booking is a must.

The programme is given below. Both events will be held in the Cardwell Theatre, MOSI and there will be a small exhibition on the history of transatlantic communications to accompany the event. To register for the seminar and/or the lecture, please contact Anne Locker (details given at the end of the email).


1000-1030 Arrival and coffee

1030-1045 Bob Martin-Royle :Chairman’s welcome, introduction and overview

1045-1115 Neil Barton: First steps to transatlantic – crossing the Irish Sea 1852-1854

1115-1130 Donard de Cogan: Background to the 1858 telegraph cable

1130-1145 Pauline Webb: John Pender and Manchester’s contribution

1145-1215 Donard de Cogan: Insights into the landing of the 1858 cable

1215-1230 Pat Wilson: Lord Kelvin’s contribution to submarine telegraphy

1230-1300 Questions and discussion

1300-1400 Lunch

1400-1430 Bob Martin-Royle: Marconi and the first transatlantic wireless links

1430-1515 Phil Kelly: TAT1 (includes film) – the first telephone cable

1515-1545 Tea

1545-1615 Des Prouse: Telstar – the birth of transatlantic satellite communications

1615-1630 Transatlantic communications: the present and future

1630-1700 Questions, discussion and closing remarks


1800-1830 Light refreshments

1830-1930 Nigel Linge: An interactive public lecture on “The Transatlantic Telegraph Cable – the birth of global communications”

1930- 2000 Questions and closing remarks


Anne Locker
IET Archivist

The Institution of Engineering and Technology

Savoy Place
United Kingdom