Friday, May 8, 2009

The copyright debate

There is an ongoing online debate about copyrights on The Economist. The basic premise is that the existing copyright laws do more harm than good. Supporting the premise is Professor William Fisher of Harvard. Opposing the premise is Professor Justin Huges of Cardozo Law School, NY.

Although the debate is US-centric, the arguments and counter-arguments are very much relevant to our tiny country as we formulate modern intellectual property laws. Not that being modern is necessarily good.

Some Maldivians do think that copyright is an everlasting, overreaching right to do whatever you want with your works. They sometimes confuse copyright, patents and trademarks which are completely different things. We have to consider the costs to the society as a whole that results in overly broad copyrights, patents and trademarks.

For example, on 9 Feb 2009, Dhivehi Observer published an article titled Intellectual property and copyright law urgently needed in Maldives, states that:
For example, in recent years several special recipes for fish have been available in the market, like Faiy Mirus, Mas Mirus and so on. These are recipes that many of us tried for the very first time. Most people don’t even know who came up with the recipe but today several companies and individuals are selling the same product. One wonders what would happen to the first people had they been allowed to register the trademark and patent the recipe. Of course, others could sell similar products but not in the same name.
Are we to really allow trademarks on generic names and phrases such as "Mas Mirus", "Faiy Mirus" which Maldivians have used for long long time. Are we to allow patents on recipes which are modifications of recipes used by our previous generations? Are we forgetting that these recipes are also derivatives, and patenting them will restrict the recipes to selected few for the coming generations. And these few will be lobbyists benefiting at the cost of the society.

Overly broad copyrights and patents come at a huge cost to the society. It is no wonder that modern 'intellectual property' laws are allowing companies like Google to get sole access to millions of books and as one blogger put it, privatisation of the English language.


Yaamyn said...


I'm not sure how it is when it comes to food recipes, but the concept of copyright laws does make a little sense to me.

I think it's the lack of intellectual property and copyright laws in the Maldives that lets Maldivians make such cheap, ridiculous rip offs of Indian movies and songs, and sell them as their own 'works'.

THe original composer who invested his hours, money and effort creating the tunes don't even get so much as CREDIT while his tunes are blatantly stolen.

The quality of Maldivian movies, or rather the lack of it, is a direct result from this dis-incentive to creativity and originality.

If I spend three years of my life researching and writing a novel to make a living, I wouldn't want thousands of people just buying stolen copies.

I remember the first time I went to buy a game cd in Male, during a trip.

I was kind of surprised to find that there weren't any original titles. They just burned the disc image on the spot!

Now, as a software person myself, I hate to think that there are so many cracked and unsafe versions of software installed in so many computers.

If one doesn't want to spend on software, I think great Open source and completely free softwares are available a plenty.

meekaaku said...

I agree copyright and patent laws should be there to give incentive for creative works. They are in itself not a problem. The problem is with overly broad nature and long duration resulting in lock up of the works for generations. This is a huge cost to the society. The cost is more in the case of patents.

When it comes to the question of what can be patented or copyrighted, we have to be careful of not locking up knowledge that existed beforehand(prior art), and also have to be awarded to real creative innovative works.

The concept of open-source software also relies on copyright laws to ensure that source code is available to the user. This is especially obvious in perpetual licenses like GPL.

V for Vandetta said...


Being a software person yourself, you should be aware of the undeniable fact that cost of some original software is beyond the reach of the developing world. As a fact, individuals of the developing world also find it difficult to reach these specific items, which means that the copyrights law has given such a huge monopoly in what is advertised as a free and fair capitalist market. This is the exact reason why it has become a widespread agenda in this part of the world, and this has become a nuisance to those corporate giants, reaping benefits from such exploitations. The copyright law, mostly does not protect the consumer, but the monopolizing giants, furthermore helping in increasing the annual reaping.

meekaaku said...

Unfortunately, maldives being a signatory to WTO TRIPS, it will come under enormous pressure to implement such 'modern' IP laws.