Driverless Irony and Maybe Car Drone Drivers Coming Soon

Assumptions can break models and render rules incoherent. Some states such as California have required that a driverless or autonomous vehicle still have a licensed driver at the wheel in case the systems fail. A friend noted that this idea is useful in the rare case the vehicle encounters a situation it cannot handle. The idea may work today. It won’t work in the future.

What happens when the next generation is raised on driverless cars? Today we can assume that drivers have enough hours behind the wheel so that they might be able to take over if need be. But in five or ten years, what exactly will driver’s ed look like? Would we require youthful drivers, somewhat dangerous based on lack of experience, to drive more? That seems to defeat the upside to the technology. Yet if a generation of drivers never really drives, how can we expect them to take over for a sophisticated system pressed beyond its capabilities? As with pilots we might use simulators and such. Yet how many hours of that will be needed? Would it test the moments when the car cannot handle the situation? These points remind of the early days of Westlaw and Lexis. When I was in school, we were required to use analog research to start. The idea was that we may be without a terminal or access to legal databases. This problem would arise in courthouses. It was true at the time, but a few years later, the Internet and web based access negated that idea. There may still be some training on the old ways, but how much anyone needs or uses them is unclear. With cars, there will be a gap period when some will have the systems and some won’t. But at some point, I’d guess that most cars will have the system, and/or fewer people will own cars at all. Many may subscribe to services instead of owning a vehicle. Driving by hand will be a special art for the rich and old schoolers as they head to stores that sell LPs.

So what may be the supercool solution? Like Onstar, a car maker may have a group of drone operators for the outlier problems. If a car fails, a signal is sent. A video game junkie, err drone expert, takes over to handle the vehicle by remote. That person is training on cars and drone operation of them all the time. They have the expertise to take over when needed. Yes, you may cue the creepy music at this point.

Public Domain? We ain’t got no Public Domain. We don’t need no Public Domain! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ Public Domain!

With apologies to B. Traven and John Huston, I note that Duke’s Center for the Public Domain has a nice post about what might have been in the public domain. In my paper The Life and Death of Copyright, I go over how a few authors rallied with American interests to extend copyright term. I also show that no matter which of the main theories one looks to for IP, none supports copyright after death. None.

In other words, folks who usually disagree about all sorts of nuances in copyright, (It’s labor! It’s the personhood! It’s utilitarian!) converge on, or at least have no good support for copyright after death. Paul Heald’s work shows that the dreaded under-production myth is just that, a myth. Aram Sinnreich’s The Piracy Crusade just came out and gets into the problems with locking up work. I’ve just started it, but his run through history, sociology, and more looks to be a great addition to the literature in this space.

So it’s a new year. Old fights are with us. New ones will come. The sun also rises. Time for naked lunch.

(Note: Burroughs claimed the phrase, Naked Lunch, meant a “frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.” or the truth albeit ugly).

i-DEPOT: A “Good First Step in Innovation”?

Perhaps I find this fascinating because I have heard from so many entrepreneurs about how the options presented to them by the current intellectual property legal system fail to meet their needs.  Or because of my research on copyright fixation.  Or because I’m fairly convinced I was a magpie in a prior life.  But through the diligence of a research assistant (thanks, Benton Patterson), I recently came across i-DEPOT, and I find it very interesting.

i-DEPOT is a sort of safe deposit box for ideas, offered in Benelux through the Benelux Office of Intellectual Property (BOIP).  The website is very careful to say, repeatedly, that i-DEPOT does not convey any IP rights.  Rather, it claims that i-DEPOT is a “legal means of proof that issues a date stamp,” providing that a particular individual is “the rightful owner of a particular creation at a specific date.”  It does not offer legal protection at all, except in so far as it serves as a source of evidence.  After a creator or inventor submits something to i-DEPOT, the individual receives a certificate with an assigned number.  (Here I am tempted to analogize to the Universitatis Commitiatum E Pluribus Unum, but that might be unfair.)

The website of the BOIP recommends that i-DEPOT be used while an idea is in the development stage, or if an individual wants to keep her idea secret.  Maybe the patent costs are too great, or the life-cycle of the product is so short that a patent would be worthless.  It can also be used for IP rights that do not require formal registration, such as copyright (does this serve as a sort of official validation of the “poor man’s copyright”?).  Finally, the BOIP suggests that i-DEPOT enables creators and inventors to feel more secure in negotiations with potential business partners by including the i-DEPOT number in a confidentiality agreement.

The BOIP frames this as a good first step in the innovation process.  I’m interested to hear from others on this.  What are your thoughts?  Does anyone know about anything similar in other countries?  Or about how widely used this is in Benelux?

Thinking About Plagiarism

cross posted from The Faculty Lounge …


plagiarisI’m probably late to the party in noticing Richard Posner’s book on plagiarism that was originally published in 2007, but it was an interesting read. I do have a bone to pick with calling it a “book” or even a “little book” as it’s not much longer than a law review article and you can read it in an hour or two, but it was a fun hour or two on my part.  Posner doesn’t answer many of the questions he raises about the nature of plagiarism, why it is considered a wrong, when it might not be a wrong, what are the appropriate sanctions etc. However, he raises great issues worth musing about, and it’s a great survey of the different contexts in which we see conduct that may be described as plagiarism – including academia, judicial opinion writing, commercial fiction, historical literature, and art. While he talks about the significance of digital technology both in enabling plagiarism and in identifying instances of plagiarism, he doesn’t come to any meaningful conclusions about whether plagiarism is qualitatively “different” in the digital world. However, he does look at how different economic models of literary production over the years impact on concepts of the wrongfulness of plagiarism over time. So if anyone is interested in thinking about the broad strokes of plagiarsm, the contexts in which it arises and how it differs from copyright infringement and fraud – and sometimes doesn’t differ that much in practice – this is an interesting read.

Citizens United, Graffiti, and the Web

We need more outlets to challenge the way things run. Challenging corporations is difficult, necessary, and proper. Someone in San Diego tried to do that. He is losing his case. It turns out that if you scribble anti-bank messages, you could face 13 years in jail. The medium: washable children’s chalk, not spray paint, on the sidewalk in front of banks. The bank: Bank of America. Now, you might think the First Amendment would be an issue here; it’s not. According the news report, “a judge had opted to prevent the defendant’s attorney from ‘mentioning the First Amendment, free speech, free expression, public forum, expressive conduct, or political speech during the trial,’ and the defendant must now stand trial on 13 counts of vandalism.” The defendant was saying other banks were better banks. Bank of America did not like it, claimed it cost $6,000 to clean up the chalk, and apparently used its influence to have the city gang unit investigate and hand the case to the attorney’s office. Given that this defendant may not be allowed to engage in this speech, because of anti-graffiti and, my bet, property laws, all that may be left is the Web. I think offline mediums matter and should be protected. The Web is an alternative, not a substitute. But even on the Web a protester will have problems.

As I argue in Speech, Citizenry, and the Market: A Corporate Public Figure Doctrine, corporate power to speak has gone up. Corporate power to limit speech has not. A corporate public figure doctrine would allow someone to use a corporation’s logo and name to challenge to corporation on public issues. A corporation’s word mark is its given name; its logo, its face. Just as we would not limit the ability to question and identify human public figures for speech, we should not do so for corporate public figures. A foundational commitment of free speech law, perhaps the foundational commitment, is that public figures don’t and can’t own their reputations. Yet, through trademark and commercial speech doctrines corporations have powerful control over their reputations. If corporations are people for free speech purposes, as a constitutional matter, their control over their reputations can be no greater than the control other public figures have. Corporations cannot have it both ways. Corporations want and receive many of the legal rights natural persons receive. They should be subject to the same limits as other powerful, public figures.

HT: Fred von Lohmann for noting the story on Facebook.

PS. I am not saying corporations should be challenged, because they are corporations. That is silly. In that sense, I would challenge those who challenge, but that’s me.