Friday, July 30, 2010

sue the simile

(photo of defendant W.C. Williams courtesy the US government)

"User rights" is a popular and contentious term coined in the copyright debate. It refers to consumer expectations in the interaction with creative content. Not surprisingly, once we as consumers of culture start to think of consumption as a right (like ownership) rather than a practice (like, um, consuming something) we naturally want more of these "rights."

Back-up copies, for instance, have suddenly appeared as a claimed "user right." I should have a ready-made free replacement for that DVD in case I accidentally run sandpaper across it! When, I ask, has that ever been a reasonable consumer expectation? Do I get a back-up copy of the food in my fridge in case I accidentally let it go bad? Those plums, for instance, that I was saving for breakfast. So sweet and so cold, they were (last week).

How far can this user rights to creative content trend expand? Apparently, it can expand all the way to the realm of metaphorical agreement in the reading of a sentence. You better have meant what I understood, or I'll sue.

For example:

Apple Inc. is being sued in Northern California for, it seems, improper analogizing -- specifically, for likening the experience of reading on an iPad to the experience of reading printed text in a traditional bound book.

Three iPad consumers - Jacob Baltazar, Claudia Keller and John R. Browning -- believe so strongly that iPad reading is NOT just like reading a book (as Apple advertising apparently promises), that they have launched a class action suit against the giant technology company for intentional misuse of a simile.

Actually, the claim (found in the complaint filed one week ago) is false, deceptive and/or misleading advertising. Of course that assertion will depend entirely on the court's interpretation of what just like reading a book means. A simile is now on trial and must declare its true meaning - and user rights depend on that meaning.

I find this all very promising, indeed, and so I'm announcing my intention to sue the estate of American imagist poet William Carlos Williams (pictured above). In my experience, very little depends upon a red wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens -- yet neither Williams nor his heirs have ever backed away from that ridiculous claim.

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Pieter Hulshoff said...

Well John, it all depends on what you think you're selling me, and what I think I'm buying.

When I'm buying a dvd, I expect it to be mine to do with as I please within the limits of copyright and other applicable laws. That includes making backup copies, reselling it when I don't need it anymore, etc.

If you expect to be selling me a license, as I've seen you write from time to time, then you should make sure that:
1. I sign the conditions of the license.
2. You provide me with a new copy at making cost if I lose my copy, since I already paid for the license to use it.
That's actually how most licensed products work, you know? If I have a valid license for a software product, and my disk breaks, I can usually download the product or get a new disk at cost price.

So, what do you think you're selling me?

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