The March 2013 Scientific American contains an interesting article about the origins of human creativity. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of human ingenuity in making tools and art 50,000 years earlier than originally believed. It’s also interesting from the intellectual property perspective to be reminded of how the evolution of science and art are so inextricably intertwined.
At the intersection of economic development and the arts sits a dispute about property rights and moral rights. The Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas, houses a world-renown collection of art in a building that was designed by famed architect Renzo Piano especially for that purpose, in that location. D Magazine describes the patented roof system as
“a barrel-vaulted roof-cum-ceiling made of 3-inch-thick, 1,200 pound glass panels, and, suspended above the glass, a sunscreen of millions of tiny aluminum oculi aimed due north. The sunscreen was designed using the precise longitude and latitude of the Nasher, and it accounts for every hour of the Earth’s 365-day trip around the sun. Standing in the gallery, a visitor looking up and to the south sees what appears to be a solid structure through the glass ceiling. Turning 180 degrees and looking north, though, he sees open sky. The system allows into the museum soft, full-spectrum light that is not only safe for artwork but creates ideal, transcendent viewing conditions.”
The Nasher was designed to be a focal point for economic development in the area, and it has been wildly successful; the Dallas Arts District now houses a variety of cultural venues including the Dallas Museum of Art, the Myerson Symphony, the Trammel Crow Museum, and the AT&T Performing Arts Center. In fact, it has been so successful that in order to take advantage of the economic development in the Arts District, a developer has been building Museum Tower, a 42-story residential high-rise development, on an adjacent piece of land.
The glass façade of Museum Tower, however, reflects light up to 250% the strength of the sun onto the Nasher from the north at an intensity that can kill plants and trees, damage artworks, and blind visitors. The gardens at the Nasher, including live oaks, are threatened. A Picasso had to be removed to avoid damage. James Turrell claimed that his piece installed at the Nasher, “Tending, (Blue)”, had been destroyed by the Tower, because it blocked the sky that was to be visible through the aperture at the top of his skyspace. The Nasher had to close the Turrell exhibit entirely. There would many property and moral rights issues to spot here, if only this were a law school exam.
Just a short blog post. You may ask what bayonets have to do with the general theme of this blog. Maybe a bit more than you think. I’ve just published an article called America’s First Patents. It is a study of the actual patents issued between 1790-1839. Not a study of what other people said about them, or guessed about them, or inferred. We actually read the patents. Sometimes you have to do the work.
Which brings me to the topic of bayonets. The blogosphere and standard media is ablaze with criticism of President Obama’s remark that we have fewer bayonets today. After all,we still use bayonets! 500,000 of them! And we only had 100,000 soldiers in 1916, so of course we had fewer bayonets!
Except no one actually looked, and it wasn’t that hard.
This report on 1917-1918 Ordnance makes clear that the US government ordered nearly 2,000,000 bayonets in 1917-1918, and even that was 500,000 less than the number of rifles available for bayonets.
The common point is that when it comes to history you have to do the work. you can’t rely on guesses, because they are often wrong. My patent study took several people many months to complete. It took me about half an hour to find an actual document that could have answered the question (a silly one at that) on which so much virtual ink has been spilled.
I recently attended a fiction writers’ conference, attended predominantly by new and seasoned authors, agents and editors. As a digital copyright professor, it was interesting to hear what was on the mind of professionals in the publishing field, particularly in comparison to digital music and movies. Some of the discussion topics that really stood out for me included:
1. Authors and editors don’t talk much about copyright, licensing etc. That’s something they pretty much leave to the agents to negotiate. Little to no discussion focused on authors protecting rights in their work.
2. Traditional brick and mortar publishing houses admit they’re scared by the move to digital content, but they seem to be looking back at what happened to the movie and music industries and trying to learn lessons about working and experimenting with digital formats in a way that is responsive to authors’ and readers’ preferences. There were some innovative ideas coming out of traditional publishing houses relating to digital technology and an acknowledgment that the technology makes it very cheap and easy for them to experiment with new content and distribution formats. Representatives of several publishing houses noted that ‘digital piracy’ can be your friend because ‘after all we want people to read’ and sometimes releasing material cheaply or free can be a great market strategy to build a readership.
3. Amazon.com is getting into the publishing game and setting up its own publishing services. Their methods for finding authors to publish include buying existing backlist catalogues from traditional publishers, soliciting new authors online, and surveying the top reviewed self-published books on Amazon.
4. A number of traditional publishers seem to be taking more interest in working with authors who originally self-published and would now like to have someone else take care of cover designs, marketing etc. Self-publishing used to be the black horse of the industry, but it’s becoming much more openly accepted now from what I heard.
5. Publishing houses also made the point that they have to work with digital technologies in a way that maybe the music industry was not able to, because the music industry could move its revenue streams to concerts and associated merchandising while there is no equivalent side market for books.
It was a fascinating experience to watch an industry up close that is going through similar dynamics to those that hit the music and movie industries a little earlier and is responding and reacting in perhaps slightly different ways to the digital challenges.
Print is Dead. Long Live the Word. Britannica Stops the Presses. Welcome to the Henry Blake cliche festival. CNN Money reports that after 244 years the print edition of Britannica will no longer be offered. As many may recall, one study indicated the Wikipedia was
more close to as accurate than Britannica. It may come as no surprise to those who know me that I tend to ask questions. My parents we of the “Look it up” school of thought. They bought World Book (remember them?) which fell short of my needs quickly. Then they bought a set of Britannica. It was lovely. Leather (or simulated perhaps), gilt edged, the micro and macro pedias, lined up in the den on wooden shelves. I ceased talking to my parents and went to the books. I loved them. In grade school, I learned that they were not to be cited but used to guide deeper research. Yes, grade school. So I was quite fortunate. My parents could afford such a luxury, and I reveled in it.
But let’s not obsess over print. Yes, analog copies are more difficult to reach out and destroy. I questioned the ability to manipulate e-books when I wrote “One possibility of the new technology is that books will continually evolve as authors change their mind or update a text. This idea brings images of revisionist Greedo shootings.” That ability was connected to Orwell in theory, and then when Amazon in fact used the power to remove a book, (remember it was in fact Orwell’s 1984?). But think about the costs for buying the research tool that was a multi-volume set. Today the print edition is $1395. I think was more when I was a kid, and that they used a model familiar to academics and software users (pay for updates) to generate revenue after the first sale. You also had to have room for the books. Digital divide and access to knowledge discussions can miss that the cost of the set would cover Internet access for 20 months. Of course one needs a computer too. But the computer and the Internet access can do much more than access one set of data. I suppose someone could study the cost of paper, binding, and shipping compared to the energy and materials for a computer and connection to see the true saving or lack of it. I will bet the numbers favor general purpose tech (Frischmann infrastructure ideas may be invoked here).
Digital also is a dream for the look it up model. I disagree with Carr and the Shallows analysis here. Yes, I look up things when on my e-reader (still a Kindle in fact) or online. And guess what I return to the text. I taunt students when they fail to look up words or ideas despite having the Internet at their fingertips almost all the time. To me online resources are great and to be embraced while also addressing the archiving and other issues new technologies raise.
Britannica’s President Jorge Cauz said some interesting and funny things to print junkies, “Everyone will want to call this the end of an era, and I understand that,” Cauz says. “But there’s no sad moment for us. I think outsiders are more nostalgic about the books than I am.” Given that he stated print was “less than 1% of the company’s total sales” he seems wise, and one wonders at why they didn’t kill it sooner. Other curious facts include that the online version is only 15% of revenue and “The other 85% is sales of education products: online learning tools, curriculum products and more.”
Will folks pay for the online version at $70 per year? I would guess not. Nonetheless Cauz claims that people interested in expert opinions will turn to Britannica: “Google’s algorithm doesn’t know what’s fact or what’s fiction,” Cauz concedes. “So Wikipedia is often the No. 1 or No. 2 result on search. But I’d bet a lot of money that most people would rather use Britannica than Wikipedia.” So far the evidence seems to be to the contrary. Wikipedia seems to hold up well. Stanford’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy is great too. I have argued that commons-based, Benkler goods could collapse, but for now they seem to be doing well.
So go with God, Britannica. Thank you for the years of service and enhancing my childhood. And congratulations on your new form. Like those in Good To Great, you have ditched the old method and seek to play in the new space. It is a bet, but it you are in the correct game and that is good.