Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Intellectual Property Stupidity II: What You're Paying For

Don Hall, as previously noted here, got a cease and desist over a review he was responding to, which he posted in full on his blog. After a few days of mulling it over, he has posted his response here, which can basically be summed up with the words "indignant bafflement."

He does a little rudimentary rooting around to try and figure out the cost of the intellectual property, and then decides that the answer is about $300. And then he wonders, rightly so, how it would possibly be in the interest of the paper to pay for such a thing.

Well, I don't know much about the relationship between the paper and the law firm involved, but I might hazard a not-too-outlandish guess that the firm may not be charging by the hour (as Don Hall's projection puts it), but is rather on retainer. This is what they do: they generate hundreds of contracts, hundreds of C&D letters, etc.

And there, I think, is the real problem -- more than greed or spite, I think the real demonstrable ill behind all of this is simply impersonality. The letter Don received is clearly from a form, and although someone clearly entered in the facts of the case, the amount of thought that was put into it was clearly little to none. After all, their website shows them to be a national firm with lots and lots of important clients.

The thing about Fair Use is that it takes thought to apply. Whereas enforcing intellectual property can be fairly automated. Did they reprint your work? Cease & Desist. It's easy to find, and easy to respond to.

My parents have always been distrustful of accountants. Not because accountants are bad people or anything, but my parents have this theory, that if you pay an accountant, they will try to be a "good" accountant by trying to save you as much money as possible. And my parents worried that an accountant who tries too hard to be a "good" accountant may be overzealous in money-saving, and may file taxes incorrectly. If an accountant simply fills out the forms, the client will wonder, "Well why am I paying for this?" An accountant who wants to keep his job in the face of TurboTax will say, "Look, see this money I saved you!" And this is with the best of motives. They're just incentivized that way.

I bet it's the same with lawyers on retainers. Look at how they're defending your rights, Ms. Sullivan! Aren't they a good law firm?

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