Copyright versus health and safety

We talk a fair amount about intellectual property issues here. When it comes to the free exchange of scientific information already paid for by taxpayers or the rapacious use of intellectual property laws by Big Pharma to price gouge the developed world and pillage the developing world the connections to public health are clear to us. Maybe some of you thought they were a stretch but now we have agreement from an unlikely source: the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Of course their take is 180 degrees in the opposite direction. For them it's infringement that's the public health and safety threat:

Local governments in California and the United States have long had the power to declare property a public nuisance when their owners allow their land to become denizens of drugs, gangs, prostitution and gambling.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, following New York's lead, is adding a new category: music and video piracy.
In an ordinance just adopted, the five-member board is declaring that piracy "substantially interferes with the interest of the public in the quality of life and community peace, lawful commerce in the county, property values, and is detrimental to the public health, safety, and welfare of the county's citizens, its businesses and its visitors." (Wired blog)

Of course this was the Board of Supervisor's idea. They are just lap dogs for the dominant industry in Los Angeles, the movie and record folks (the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America). Local health ordinances are powerful tools. They permit local authorities to "temporarily restrain, preliminarily enjoin, and/or permanently enjoin the person or persons intentionally conducting, or knowingly maintaining or permitting the public nuisance from further conducting, maintaining, or permitting such a public nuisance."

Then there's our Democratic Congress "friends" like John Conyers whose committee just barfed up the Orwellian Pro-IP Act that piles on more penalties for alleged intellectual property infringements. It's another industry sponsored and blessed piece of garbage.

MPAA chairman Dan Glickman applauded the House for passing the bill and expresses hope that it will move just as quickly through the Senate. "We applaud the members of the House of Representatives for passing the PRO-IP Act, H.R. 4279. It is a comprehensive, bipartisan measure that will strengthen our nation's economy and generate more jobs for American workers by bolstering protections for intellectual property," Glickman said in a statement. "Given the difficult economic times we face, the PRO-IP Act is welcome by both the business and labor communities because it can improve our nation's economic outlook. I hope the Senate will move quickly to pass similar legislation." (Ars Technica)

1984. 1984. NewSpeak. 1984. This one turns civil infractions into criminal ones and establishes a new division in the Department of "Justice", complete with a copyright czar. That's because the drug czar worked out so well, I guess. Under this law they can come in a seize your property. It isn't clear whether the Senate will dutifully trot after the House. Lapdogs are still vertebrates so nothing is certain.

Meanwhile we've established that intellectual property is a public health issue. We just aren't sure yet whose health is at issue:he people's health or the movie and record industry's health. It looks like you can't support current intellectual property concerns and have both. From the public health perspective it isn't a hard choice.

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Sir, I feel that you are ignoring a major point: piracy is a crime. Crime which injures not only major corporations, but little producers as well. I have personally seen episodes of my TV show appear on the Pirate Bay before broadcast. When we found the culprit in our own company he declared in the most proudly ignorant way possible that "information wanted to be free." That is a direct quote, and similar justifications can be found abounding throughout the internet pirate chat rooms.

While the copyright laws do need some amendment, this is a stupid and facile way to operate. With movies and music being our second largest export industry after weapons, it is necessary and right that the government attempt to suppress this crime.

If I remember correctly corporations are seen as "persons" under the law so your comment about the record industry's health seems not too far off the mark in a wierd sort of way.

By impatientpatient (not verified) on 10 May 2008 #permalink

"While the copyright laws do need some amendment, this is a stupid and facile way to operate. With movies and music being our second largest export industry after weapons, it is necessary and right that the government attempt to suppress this crime."

It's recording and software industry propaganda that most of those who oppose laws like the one Revere references simply want to stop prosecuting genuine cases of piracy. Like it or not, the legal implementation of IP law is not nearly as cut and dry as tangible property regimes, and laws like the DMCA pile on provisions that undermine not actual piracy, but activities that are under any reasonable definition fair use, such as reverse-engineering software to create interoperable companions.

I'm not a copyright abolitionist, but no disinterested observer, unless they are a complete fool, can fail to see that overzealous copyright maximalism is a threat to consumer freedom and free speech, among many other things.

copyright is offensive. You claim ownership for something
which others might invent later anyway. Or already
did invent but failed to claim ownership in the
required form.
Some international organiztion should evaluate and
pay for inventions which then become public domain.

I like to purchase movie and tv videos, and have accumulated quite a library over the years, fully understanding that the biggest chunk of the price I am paying is the value of the intellectual property, and not necessarily the hardware that material is copied onto, or the distribution costs.

Over the years of course, technology has evolved, and I also have moved to and from different regions, so I find I have many films or TV series I have purchased multiple times at full price going from VHS NTSC, VHS PAL, VCD, LD, DVD Region 1, DVD Region 3, DVD Region 6.

With software, when you upgrade, you do not need to pay full price. Yet, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America cut you no slack. There is no mechanism in place to provide a rebate or discount for buying the same Intellectual property on an upgraded medium. Something as simple as exchanging a legitmate VHS tape for a DVD.

So whenever I hear the moans of those complaining about someone buying counterfeits, consider that the price of legitimate copies has already taken into account an estimate of the number of sales lost to counterfeiting, and consider there are millions of people who have paid for the same property multiple times at full price.

Do something about the problem of double or even triple charging people for the same property , and I will have more sympathy for the lost sales due to counterfeiting.

Call for vaccine opt-out penalty

Tough sanctions are being proposed for parents who refuse routine vaccinations, such as MMR.

with scientists in office, the United States might catch up with Great Britin.

For some reason, I thought I was posting in another thread...sorry about being so off topic.

Pft, you could have easily solved your issue with a region-free DVD player. They are available from eBay and, I believe, Though I agree with you, as someone who has to go from LA to New Zealand, Africa and China, it is a pain to figure out the regions and everything. I think that regions should be abolished, and I believe PAL and NTSC are being phased out by HD.

And Tyler, one exception does not a trend make. Until there is full and complete erasure of piracy, or at least a reasonable measure of said, then the occasional overzealous prosecutor will sue.


You do not seem to understand what copyright is.

IP comes in three major branches (with gross simplifications about what would happen without IP law).

Copyright. (You write a book or make a movie- other people steal it and sell it themselves without paying you for it)

Trademarks. (You build up a business with a slogan and a symbolic representation via advertising and hard work that everybody in your city recognises and associates with your business. The guy down the road steals it and sets up the same business with your slogan plus symbol and takes a sizeable part of your marketshare as the public can't tell the difference)

Patents. (You spend 10 years inventing a new device that treats an important disease. The guy down the road makes exact copies of it and sells it himself immediately)

You say that copyright is offensive? Then can I safely assume that either you don't understand what the word copyright means or that you will accept outright plagiarism is perfectly acceptable? Copyright can simply be asserted by the author (but does need to be defended). Failure to protect copyright essentially means the end of commercial publishing as lack of protection means that anybody can print the book you've written (under their own name if they wish) and pocket the profits.

Patents on the other hand require registration- I think this is what you're talking about. If we fail to protect inventions (at least for a while) where is the incentive for inventors (or the companies that might employ them) to take the time and expense to develop the things that we need/want? The place down the road will simply buy the first model off the line, reverse engineer it and sell it without incurring the development costs. Market forces will then destroy the inventors.

Whilst I don't see IP as it pertains to the motion picture industry as a public health issue I do see IP in general as a public health issue. If you think the drug pipeline is running dry now, imagine what would happen if the patent system was abandoned.

(Disclaimer: I'm a public health scientist who routinely gives away to the public good any ideas I might come up with. I am employed by government funding and thus anything I come up with should be available to those who pay my salary)

Nat: At issue is the way IP is governed. It has granted a virtual monopoly and worked in ways that it stifles rather than encourages innovation. You may disagree on that, but that is where the dispute is. As for what would happen if we eased up and returned copyright to where it was for most of our history, I believe your disclaimer says it all. You still do what you do without the claim you own it. For most scientists that's where we are, too.


I'm sorry but the continued confusion between patents and copyright is confusing me again. Whilst my previous comment was really addressed to "anon" it's worth repeating that Copyrights and Patents are not the same thing. The express purpose behind Patents is to grant exclusive rights. You can license others to produce your invention over a speicified time limit (in the case of Pharm patients they have a limited life that allows generic companies to manufacture after a reasonable period of time- the length of this protection is highly contentious). I argue that monopoly in this case does in fact encourage innovation by the private sector. And now the universities also expect this protection for their employees output so they can license it. I don't see how rapacious behaviour by the music industry in defending copyright on music and movies by subverting public health ordinances in one city is a public health issue (unless they start imprisoning substantial numbers of people in the bloated US prison system and all that entails for the health of the population). Could you please explain why you feel this is so?

As far as copyright is concerned I will in fact claim ownership over all things I write/produce (when I'm able of course and when open publishing becomes a little more viable in my particular field). We make a available our ideas by publishing them but we claim ownership over the particular form of that communication (i.e. plagiarism is still not OK to scientists).

Patents. Anything I invent I will patent both in my name and in the name of my employer (however this is unlikely for an epidemiologist). To not do so would be grossly negligent and could easily harm public health (if my hypothetical invention is actually useful). Failure to protect allows others to take your invention and patent it themselves for their own profit. Let's also remember that Patents are a worldwide system of protection- this is not just a USA issue.

"And Tyler, one exception does not a trend make. Until there is full and complete erasure of piracy, or at least a reasonable measure of said, then the occasional overzealous prosecutor will sue."

Now that's just cheap, Damien. I gave you an example, if you want more you can simply browse the EFF's website for a while. There is a clear pattern of abuse of such laws to prohibit activities that are clearly not piracy but may slightly inconvenience content producers (such as creating competing products and technologies). It's not "the occasional overzealous prosecutor", it's an organized effort to prop up an established guild.

Nat: My point was different. You do not acknowledge that there is a distinction between the objectives of copyright and patents (I lump them because what I hav to say applies to both although they are not the same thing) and the highly distorted way in which the system has been implemented, especially in the last half century. Granting a monopoly (whether to manufacture or reproduce) can either serve to stimulate innovation (the original intention of the Framers) or to stifle competition (I would argue the objective of the current system). That is where the dispute is and I believe you are not recognizing this.

As an inventor who is quite involved in patent work, I would like to correct some misconceptions. All a patent does is allow the patent holder to exclude others from making, using and selling the patented invention during the term of the patent. That right to exclude is granted for the disclosure of the invention in a form with sufficient detail such that someone skilled in the art can read the patent and then practice the invention. Patents can only be granted on new inventions, that is inventions that were not publically known anywhere in the world prior to the filing of the patent application.

You dont need to file a patent to keep someone else from patenting something, all you need to do is publish it in a public forum. That would include a public forum such as this blog. In the US, only the actual inventor can patent something. During the patent application process, you are required to disclose all prior art that might be relevant.

Suppose you read about the new drug Reverezapine (which treats delusions about health) on Reveres blog and try to patent it, you have to disclose what Revere posted about it (or you have committed fraud on the Patent office). Even if you get a patent on Reverezapine, that patent is invalid, that is, it is not enforceable. If you tried to block anyone from making, selling or using Reverezapine, all they would have to do is show that how to make it had been published before you filed for the patent and the patent would be declared invalid. Even if you got a patent on Reverezapine, what would be your business plan of how to profit from it? How much would people be willing to pay to be cured of their delusions about health? Many people are delusional about health and want to stay that way.

The purpose behind the patent system is to grant exclusivity in return for the disclosure with the idea being that once the invention is disclosed, then other people can work on improving it. New improvements can be newly patented by whoever invents them. That includes the original inventor, but it could be anyone else too. If someone else patents an improvement to a patented invention, the original patent holder cant practice the improvement unless he/she is licensed to do so by the second patent holder.

That ability to exclude only holds in the country where the patent is issued. A US patent only applies on US territory. A drug only patented in the US can be made anywhere else in the world and sold anywhere else in the world. Usually the economies of scale dont make it a viable business to make and sell a drug in a small market. Most drug manufacturers dont bother to patent their drugs in small countries without an indigenous pharmaceutical industry. It is extremely unlikely that someone else will set-up to make and sell drug XYZ in poor third world country ABC. There is simply no business reason to do so.

My own opinion is that the problems of health care are not much do to the patent system, but rather to the insistence that health care can only be produced and delivered by systems operating under a business model, that is an investment-return model. The problem stems from the costs and investments necessarily being in cash upfront, while the return is mostly the good health of the population served. If those people are poor, their good health cannot be monetized and turned into cash to repay the cash investments. That is why research on Viagra knock-offs are a much better business than is research on treatments for malaria.

A for-profit business is in business to make profit. They cant do charity because it reduces the return the shareholders get and drives down the value of the company and stock. Then new shareholders buy it, kick the charitable managers out and divert that charity to profit. The value of the company goes up.

it doesn't matter so much, how you split and name those IP (intellectual proterty)
issues in several languages and cultures. The discussion issues are similar.
Our system rewards individual secrecy, which is bad for the economy as a whole.
It is clear, that open access to any IP would be beneficial to the
world as a whole, if you sum up all individual advantages and disadvantages.
Now, of course we must try to reduce/eliminate lacal unfairness and reward
research which is done fr the benefit of others.
But I think the current system is not so suitable to achieve this.
I favour an international institution funded by international tax-money to
evaluate,fund and pay for research. Once paid, the IP goes into public domain.
The exact criteria to be determined.
In general it should be proportional to the expected benefit for the world.
Later additional payments or back-payments are possible, when new
knowledge about the "worth" of the IP appear.

Fukuda said recently :

> In developing a WHO public health research agenda (on influenza) we are trying to push
> for a paradigm change,
> What we hope to improve is the kind of sharing and flow of information and take it to another level
> Most research is driven by individual researchers but depends on the source of funding,
> so there is also a need to sensitise donors about priorities
> It is really quite secretive until the information is published. It is like a poker game
> SARS showed we can develop a collaborative network to get people who are normally
> competitors sharing information because of a public health need

anon 2:51 AM, The "problem" with your approach is that the funding is controlled by those other than the innovator. The "value" of an innovation is only obvious in hindsight, but funding for the research and development has to occur before the innovation can happen. The system you suggest would be good at rewarding those with good marketing skills, who can sell their "innovation" as deserving of lots of reward.

The "advantages" of open access to IP are similar to the "advantages" of open access to food. Most everyone would be better off if food were free. Everyone except the farmers who produce it. But if farmers can't make a living growing and selling food, soon there will be no farmers and soon there will be no food.

daedalus2u, the farmers could be paid from public money or subventions as done in communist countries, so it is possible in theorie.

There could be a market for IPs, with companies, insurances
speculating on the value later paid by the international
thus providing the IP-producer with safe income while participating on excess profits. Well, the same is done on almost any normal occupation.

First of all, Damien is acting like a shill for the MPAA and RIAA, and this is no surprise since their shills are crawling the internet over this issue. Notice also his phrase "full and complete erasure of piracy.* Full *and* complete. *Erasure.* Final solutions, anyone? Damien deserves a porcupine suppository for that one.

Second, all stripes of libertarians from conservative to progressive agree that "legal personhood" for corporations should be sharply restricted if not abolished entirely.

Third, Anon, sorry yo, but you're advocating communism. That gets a great big "no thanks!" from me.

Fourth and finally:

The way to fight back against RIAA and MPAA is really really simple.


I've lived without it since about the time when copyright fascism got going, and I haven't missed it, and I haven't looked back.

There's plenty of good independent film, independent music, and stuff produced under Creative Commons. There are excellent writers and musicians who publish online and earn their living via voluntary payments. When you send a donation via PayPal to them, they get all of it except for PayPal's nominal fee. That's quite a contrast to the MPAA/RIAA system that screws artists to the wall and leaves them with pittance and a smile.

There's also over-the-air radio and television, both of which are free to receive thanks to advertisers. And last time I checked, the Supreme Court decision in the Betamax case still stood: you can record the songs and programs you like off the air and listen to them at your leisure.

Realistically you don't need RIAA/MPAA product in order to live. You don't even need it in order to be entertained. And as for the "monkeysphere" issue of being able to chat socially with others about what they're chatting about, you can instead chat with them about all the cool stuff you're watching and listening to and reading that is costing you nothing or for which you're paying the artists/writers/etc. directly. That's a viral meme, it will spread easily: "psst! good stuff here, it's legal, and it's free!"