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Pegasus Librarian Posts

"Useful" things can’t be protected by copyright

Clothing designs and cooking recipes can’t be copyrighted. They’re creative expressions (some more than others). They’re fixed in a tangible form. But there’s a 200-year-old rule that things that are “useful” can’t be regulated. At least, that’s what the New York Times says in their article “OK, Knockoffs, This is War,” which ran on March 30th. I haven’t found any original expression of this “legal principle” yet, but the NYT calls it “outdated in this era of sophisticated mass copying.” They go on to quote a lawyer:

”The whole underpinning of that 200-year-old law of functionality was to promote creativity and innovation,” said Alain Coblence, a lawyer hired by the Council of Fashion Designers and by fashion trade groups in Paris and Milan, which also promote the legislation. ”Yet the situation is exactly the reverse because designers now must ask what is the incentive to innovate if you know your creation is going to be stolen within days and your designs are going to be used before you have a chance to use them for yourself?”

Now, I’m by no means an expert on copyright law, or law of any kind, but I fail to see how this law is “outdated” just because it allows copying. After all, rich people will always buy designer originals rather than knockoffs, and regular people will never buy designer originals. I’m also having trouble imagining what we regular folks would be able to buy once all the clothing designs out there have been copyrighted with rights reserved for a “limited” time of only 120 years. (I’m using the current term length for unpublished works because I don’t know exactly how you would “publish” a dress or a coat.) How will this encourage innovation? I think it would innovate us right out of clothing!

There seem to be two main arguments for increased regulation: copying isn’t “fair,” and “people now have more disposable income” so they can afford the originals. The second reason needs no comment. The first sounds wonderful and all, except that my understanding of copyright law is that it has very little to do with fairness. Plagiarism isn’t “fair,” but unless it violates copyright law it isn’t actually illegal. And from my limited knowledge of fashion knockoffs, they get most of their fame from “citing” the original source. After all, those Oscar dress knockoffs wouldn’t sell very well if they weren’t copies of dresses worn at the Oscars.

Luckily, the NYT seems to be on my side. Author Eric Wilson ends with a quote from Gela Taylor, a designer at Juicy Couture talking about the proposed regulation.
”I don’t think anybody’s naive about this,” Ms. Taylor said. ”Fashion is a strange and ephemeral thing. But this proposal is for people who are not inspired by anything but looking for an easy way to make money.”

Now my question is, isn’t scholarship “useful”?

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I’m published!

After several hundred hours viewing the source code of a few thousand web pages, and then another several hundred hours writing up the data (not to mention the literature review) I’m finally rewarded. Information Processing & Management decided to publish the article I wrote with Professor Jin Zhang of the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. As the body of the text is just about as scintillating as the title, “A Study of the Metadata Creation Behavior of Different User Groups on the Internet,” I only know of two people who’ve actually read it… my parents.

Here’s the abstract:

Metadata is designed to improve information organization and information retrieval effectiveness and efficiency on the Internet. The way web publishers respond to metadata and the way they use it when publishing their web pages, however, is still a mystery. The authors of this paper aim to solve this mystery by defining different professional publisher groups, examining the behaviors of these user groups, and identifying the characteristics of their metadata use. This study will enhance the current understanding of metadata application behavior and provide evidence useful to researchers, web publishers, and search engine designers.

Our second paper (about patterns in metadata elements that show up together in the source code of these web pages) has been accepted by Online Information Review, though there’s no word yet on when the article will actually be published. And little by little I’m still collecting data for one (or two) more papers.

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Google’s newest product

For all of you that remember last year’s Google drinks, here’s today’s new Google product, the beta version of Google Romance. Here’s the Press Release. The FAQs are … informative, and the Tour is insightful. It has all the features we know and love about regular Google web searching, including “Did you mean…” and “I’m feeling lucky.” My favorite is the line that says:

It’s important to all of us on the Google Romance team that the ads you see during your Contextual Date be useful and enjoyable, not intrusive and annoying.

Seriously, you have to read the fine print on the tour and the FAQs.

Previous innovative projects have included MentalPlex (2000), PigeonRank (2002), and job oportunities on the moon (2004).

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Remembering CIL 2006

I don’t remember how I got started on this, but I found myself blog-surfing through the blogs of people who attended Computers in Libraries 2006, the most amazing conference out there. (I even found myself mentioned a few times, which is very new to me.) But anyway, these people are awesome. They’re so engaged and thoughtful, and not stuffy in the least. Marion Librarian, move over!

I’m pretty sure I browsed through at least a few more, but I can’t remember. But if you want some good reading, check these people out. These are truly cool librarians. (The full list of CIL registered bloggers is here.)