So What If I Can Open My Garage Door?

Ernest Miller is right in one sense to wonder why the Chamberlain v. Skylink decision hasn’t gotten as much public attention as, say, the Grokster decision. The case may have better rhetoric than doctrine, but still, it’s a big step forward.

On the other hand, it’s easy to see why the press just doesn’t care. Garage door openers aren’t sexy. Garage door openers don’t implicate a big money lobby. Garage door openers aren’t part of popular culture. It’s also easy, I think, to see why the press shouldn’t care. The press shouldn’t care because people don’t care, at least not so long as they think of IP questions as mostly questions of “creativity” or “innovation.” To get the court of public opinion engaged in garage door openers, arguments to restore balance to IP policy need to embrace “ordinary daily lives,” along with the public domain.

One of the hidden vices of pro-IP “education” campaigns by the RIAA, the MPAA, and the Copyright Society is that they send the message that IP — and copyright, especially — is about protecting other people. It’s about movie-making, and music, and photography, and software developers, and writers, and web designers, and artists. At the level of “creativity” in the colloquial sense, that’s mostly right. Most people don’t want to make music or movies; they just want to listen or watch. (Everyone has the tools to create, but not everyone creates. The latter is at least as important as the former, and possibly more so.) They’re not inclined to care about esoteric arguments about the DMCA. And so long as “tinkering” with technology is largely about science and progress, that isn’t going to change. What may get it to change — over time — is framing the issues in terms of ordinary experience. My brother works in health care, managing databases of patient histories. He wants to talk to me about ownership of medical record data, because people in his company are telling him that these are corporate assets. Now, we’re getting somewhere.

One thought on “So What If I Can Open My Garage Door?

  1. Maybe it’s all about the music: The Sixth Circuit’s admonition to “[g]et a license or do not sample” seems to have struck a chord (so to speak).

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