You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2007.

By way of the always superb BLDGBLOG, I found this website: Old UK Photos. It’s certainly aptly titled, for it displays photos from the Victorian era through the 1960s, often enhanced from black and white. The copyright statement of the website states:

Please note when sending in any scanned images that we can only accept photographs that you or your family have yourself taken, or are of such an age that the owner of copyright has been deceased for over 70 years. Generally speaking, we believe that scans of old postcards are Ok. There is one postcard company – Frith’s – that is still in existence, and therefore we cannot accept any scans of their company’s postcards. Under no circumstances should you send in any images that you have downloaded from the internet. Thank you for your patience and your co-operation.

As you see, the managers of this website take pains to be clear as to what is acceptable and what is not. I rather think that at least in the U.S., uses of photos that do not exactly fit these requirements would be acceptable under Fair Use, but the website managers, like museums, err on the side of caution. Despite these restrictions, what they have accumulated is impressive. The format of the website is perhaps a tad clumsy, but if you have the forbearance, you can find photos such as these:

If you loved these photos, you would love the phenomenal The Empire That Was Russia homepage hosted by the Library of Congress. It has long been a mainstay of Arts & Letters Daily’s “Classics” section. In the coming years, these photos are likely to have ever-greater significance and meaning for those who live either in Russia or out of it. The photos of that collection are also enhanced and seem to be not from just the past, but of any age or place on Earth. I haven’t looked too deeply into them, but they seem to be public domain as well.

Another UK-centered website is Leodis, funded by a grant in the UK to put all of Leeds’ 40,000+ photos on-line to make them more accessible to the general public. The website says:

The largest collection of photographs on the site is the City Engineers collection. These were photographs taken for the City Council from around 1890 to the 1960s of areas of municipal concern such as pre slum clearance or road alterations.

The site seems to be maintained in part by generating revenue from people who want to purchase these outstanding photos. On a more personal note, my mother, a part-time genealogist, tells me that exact photos of my ancestors from the 1800s can be found in this repository. One of my great-grandfathers hails from the town. Unfortunately, unlike the previous two websites, it seems like this one tends to show mostly copyrighted photos:

Unless otherwise stated, the copyright, database rights and similar rights in all material published on this site are owned by Leeds Library and Information Service, Leeds City Council.

Again, that is not actually to say you cannot use them — but it means beware!

[This post has been substantially cross-posted on Awkward Utopia]

The consensus amongst scholars and students of intellectual property seems to be that the waves of IP protection must recede. Some radicals believe in the outright abolition of IP (such as myself, for the time being), but many more advocate something more piecemeal and reasonable: the reduction in the length and scope of protection. Don’t take my word for it:  copyright authority Bill Patry agrees and Michael Crichton thinks so too! This flies in the face of the trend toward increasing protection and ever more draconian penalties for violating IP rights — such as copyright infringement. Perhaps one of the fields that will be most strongly impacted is biotechnology. An article in the Washington Post discussed the portent of intellectual property in one field of biotech:

Now researchers are poised to cross a dramatic barrier: the creation of life forms driven by completely artificial DNA. Scientists in Maryland have already built the world’s first entirely handcrafted chromosome — a large looping strand of DNA made from scratch in a laboratory, containing all the instructions a microbe needs to live and reproduce. […] The cobbling together of life from synthetic DNA, scientists and philosophers agree, will be a watershed event, blurring the line between biological and artificial — and forcing a rethinking of what it means for a thing to be alive.

More pertinently:

At the core of synthetic biology’s new ascendance are high-speed DNA synthesizers that can produce very long strands of genetic material from basic chemical building blocks: sugars, nitrogen-based compounds and phosphates. Today a scientist can write a long genetic program on a computer just as a maestro might compose a musical score, then use a synthesizer to convert that digital code into actual DNA. Experiments with “natural” DNA indicate that when a faux chromosome gets plopped into a cell, it will be able to direct the destruction of the cell’s old DNA and become its new “brain” — telling the cell to start making a valuable chemical, for example, or a medicine or a toxin, or a bio-based gasoline substitute. […]

If biology is to morph into an engineering discipline, it is going to need similarly standardized parts, Knight said. So he and colleagues have started a collection of hundreds of interchangeable genetic components they call BioBricks, which students and others are already popping into cells like Lego pieces.

John Robb of Global Guerrillas, one of the best blogs you’re probably not reading, had this reaction:

Essentially, the tinkering networks we see in the software industry will be mirrored in synbio. Further, the skill sets associated with synthetic biology will be as widely dispersed as software programming is today and the tools will be just as inexpensive/ubiquitous.

Robb is concerned with the applications of synbio for “open source warfare” and they are admittedly very interesting. But I would hope that this spells the end for intellectual property protections. It isn’t reasonable to make intellectual property protections for entities that maintain their rights when they slightly alter an inert molecule of a drug formula or one of the purposefully placed inert amino acids with another. Our copyright law says that you can’t copyright an idea, and that’s well and good, but often the line is very blurred. Take, for instance, the famous Satava v. Lowry case where an artist was not able to protect his jellyfish designs:

It follows from these principles that no copyright pro­tection may be afforded to the idea of producing a glass-in-glass jellyfish sculpture or to elements of expression that naturally follow from the idea of such a sculpture. See Aliotti v. R. Dakin & Co., 831 F.2d 898, 901 (9th Cir. 1987) (“No copyright protection may be afforded to the idea of producing stuffed dinosaur toys or to elements of expression that necessarily follow from the idea of such dolls.”).

Satava may not prevent others from copying aspects of his sculptures resulting from either jellyfish physiology or from their depiction in the glass-in-glass medium. See id. (“Appellants therefore may place no reliance upon any similarity in expression resulting from either the physiognomy of dinosaurs or from the nature of stuffed animals.”).

Satava may not prevent others from depicting jellyfish with tendril-like tentacles or rounded bells, because many jellyfish possess those body parts. He may not prevent others from depicting jellyfish in bright colors, because many jellyfish are brightly colored. He may not prevent others from depicting jellyfish swimming vertically, because jellyfish swim vertically in nature and often are depicted swimming vertically. See id. at 901 n.1 (noting that a Tyrannosaurus stuffed animal’s open mouth was not an element protected by copyright because Tyrannosaurus “was a carnivore and is commonly pictured with its mouth open”). Satava may not prevent others from depicting jellyfish within a clear outer layer of glass, because clear glass is the most appropriate setting for an aquatic animal. See id. (noting that a Pterodactyl stuffed animal’s depiction as a mobile hanging from the ceiling was not protectable because Pterodactyl “was a winged creature and thus is appropriate for such treatment”). He may not prevent others from depicting jellyfish “almost filling the entire volume” of the outer glass shroud, because such proportion is standard in glass-in-glass sculpture. And he may not prevent others from tapering the shape of their shrouds, because that shape is standard in glass-in-glass sculpture.

Satava’s glass-in-glass jellyfish sculptures, though beautiful, combine several unprotectable ideas and standard elements. These elements are part of the public domain. They are the common property of all, and Satava may not use copyright law to seize them for his exclusive use.

What, then, is protectible? According to the court:

We do not mean to suggest that Satava has added nothing copyrightable to his jellyfish sculptures. He has made some copyrightable contributions: the distinctive curls of particular tendrils; the arrangement of certain hues; the unique shape of jellyfishes’ bells.

If you think that the court is really struggling, you’re wrong. The court knows what it’s doing. It knows very well that in copyright there is an extremely blurry line between uncopyrightable ideas and copyrightable expressions of ideas. Many might argue that the line is so unreasonable that we should be able to try to mimic others paintings, as various industrial artists do in China and have done as a timeless practice throughout the world motivated by the profits to be had. Where will this be a problem in synbio?

Any one of several ways. Different genotypes can lead to exactly the same phenotype. Would it be fair to copyright the phenotype but not the underlying genotype or vice versa? Is one an idea or are both expressions of an idea? Also: both RNA and DNA can be replicated a billion times relatively quickly and painlessly, but during replication errors will occur sometimes substantially altering both the expression and the idea of the genes (my favorite book on the subject of selection is this one). Can we protect those as derivative works? And on and on.

Alas, I do not believe that the system conveys a net benefit to any society be it here or especially abroad. Unlike in biotech, there is nothing natural about the distortion that is intellectual property.

This article out of the New York Times talks about the resurgence of Yale’s School of Architecture. It makes me very glad that the resurgence has come out of a new-found dedication to the spirit of open inquiry into form, function, and everything else that should go into architecture, as opposed to being wedded to one school of “progressive” thought:

WHEN Robert A. M. Stern was appointed dean of the Yale School of Architecture in 1998, the reaction among a broad swath of students, faculty members and prominent architects was shock mixed with disdainful indignation. Too traditional, they argued, a backward decision for an institution known for producing the progressive architects of tomorrow. […]

But even those who dislike — or even dismiss — his architecture as retrograde say he has transformed Yale’s Architecture School from a complacent institution that mirrored the likes and dislikes of its deans into a vibrant nexus of ideas and debate in which multiple views are represented and conflict encouraged.

Well done!

It turns out that Hollywood is not always about money. As readers of this blog know, I have no problem with art crossing the line that so many believe should separate art and money. I think they can, are, and must be intertwined. One of the big criticisms leveled at Hollywood, of course, has been its voracious appetite for money at the expense of producing higher quality art through film-making.

First of all, that is not true. For the past several years, countless movies with anti-Bush and anti-Iraq War themes have made their way into theaters. With one exception (Fahrenheit 9/11, and even that was positively filled with obvious lies and grotesque distortions), they have been box office disasters. It seems like we can predict ahead of time that movies that are far less about art and more about political commentary masquerading as “timely, trenchant analysis.” I find it interesting that Charlie Wilson’s War’s conclusion is placed on a lack of aid, according to the New York Times:

…the blame for the Islamic ascendancy is not placed on the support for the Afghani warlords, but on the United States’ failure to maintain its aid to Afghanistan after the Soviet retreat.

So then we can get a movie about the Islamic ascendancy in Iraq being due to the United States’ failure to maintain its aid to Iraq after al-Qaeda’s retreat? Yeah. I’m sure that movie would get made. I’m still waiting for the one talking about President Truman’s responsibility for North Korea and Mao. Maybe I can write the screenplay. Anyone want co-writing credit?

Second, look at a film market where money doesn’t really matter. It has had some gut-wrenching ups and downs. The French government endlessly subsidizes moviemaking for a people who don’t see movies as much as they used to and don’t really care. Few of France’s top hits are French anymore — though there are notable critical successes — why do you think that is? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the industry, insulated from consumer demands due to subsidies, only tries to appeal to itself and elite critics.  I am trying to find the graph showing this published recently in The Economist, but so far no luck.

No doubt, at some level, politicians are artists. Whether we use broad definitions or narrower definitions that say art involves scenario-building or vision of some kind, politicians build a kind of art. We may not admire their art. Indeed, we may be terrified of it — coming out of a century of industrialized murder (Stalin, Mao, Hitler) — it’s easy to feel that way. But it could still be a kind of art. Unfortunately, that would lend some kind of aesthetic credibility to that hack of a human being Kim Jong-Il, who still runs concentration camp gulags in the Hermit Kingdom.

Apparently, the New York Philharmonic has accepted an invitation to play in North Korea. From one perspective, this performance occupies an important role in scenario-building: one of engagement, understanding, and unity. This is history, from the NYTimes article:

The Philharmonic’s trip, which has generated some controversy among orchestra musicians and commentators, will follow a venerable line of groundbreaking orchestra tours that have played a role in diplomacy, the most famous one, perhaps, taking place in 1973, when the Philadelphia Orchestra traveled to China soon after President Nixon’s historic visit and amid what came to be known as Ping-Pong diplomacy. In 1956 the Boston Symphony was the first major American orchestra to travel to the Soviet Union. The New York Philharmonic, under Leonard Bernstein, went three years later.

There certainly will be critics with very good arguments. There are artists who would much rather play for dictators in North Korea than leaders of the free world. The author of this blog is a strong proponent that North Korea remain on the list of state sponsors of terror. Its bombing of Korea Airlines flight 858 could no sooner be forgotten than North Korea’s wanton axe slaughter of American servicemen in 1976. I support any and all artistic engagement with the regime, so long as it is done with open eyes. The New York Philharmonic appears to be on top of things, again from the NYT article:

[The conditions for performance sought by the Philharmonic] included the presence of foreign journalists; a nationwide broadcast to ensure that not just a small elite would hear the concert; acoustical adjustments to the East Pyongyang Grand Theater; an assurance that the eight Philharmonic members of Korean origin would not encounter difficulties; and that the orchestra could play “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

A US functionary of dubious honor, Christopher Hill, said that he thinks the conditions have been met. If he’s right, but only if he’s right, this would make performance an acceptable and honorable political act. Nothing will change the fact that the ruthless dictators of North Korea will brainwash its citizens (and American tourists, including a once-dear friend of mine) into thinking that the Pueblo Incident was America’s fault. Nothing will change the fact that the murderers of Pyongyang tell their citizens America is responsible for them not having any power, despite the fact that Pyongyang was once the capital of the industrialized half of the Korean peninsula. During the Japanese occupation, the Empire only allowed development far away from Japan as they viewed the peninsula as a dagger pointing into Japan’s heart. Forty years later, the situation was drastically reversed.

No, nothing will change any of that. But at least we can say that we acted in good faith and shared our art with them. Maybe one person will stop and say that heart-felt beauty like this could not possibly come from a terrible imperialist nation. We may gain something, however small, and at no cost whatsoever.

Many of you know my contempt for so-called moral rights. And as a disclaimer, aesthetically, I love Calatrava’s works. He really gets away with a lot. But I cannot help but report this from the William Patry Copyright blog with a bit, just a bit… okay, a LOT, of Schadenfreude. The facts are that the city of Bilbao needed to make some repairs and improvements to a bridge built by Calatrava, whose structures have the habit of falling into some disrepair. Calatrava objected on various moral rights grounds — the right of integrity probably amongst others. Yadda yadda. Here we go:

According to a story in Expatica Newsletters (here), the Spanish court has ruled in defendant’s favor, albeit with some interesting holdings. […]

The judge concludes that, given that the walkway is essential for fluid pedestrian movement, the public interest must prevail over the private – a point that was much repeated in the trial by the lawyers for the city council and the two construction firms. “The alteration has occurred; but the right to the integrity of the work is not violated, the author being obliged to bear it in the interest of the public served by the bridge,” says the ruling.

It is heartening to see that despite endless rhetoric from Europe about copyright being a natural right, that authors’ rights are inviolate, that moral rights are essential to preserve the integrity of works and authors’ right to dignity, that copyright may even be a fundamental human right, blah blah blah, European courts can be every bit as pragmatic as their crass U.S. counterparts when the facts are right: yes there is this thing copyright, yes it was violated, but hey there are other factors which can trump it, namely the public interest.

V-I-C-T-O-R-Y!!!