Wednesday, November 09, 2005

What's the Intent?

Jennifer Granick has recently written an article for Wired that caught my eye.

Jennifer makes the claim that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) are unjustly using their copyrighted science education standards manuals to manipulate the Kansas State Board of Education. The board has recently ruled in favor of "teaching" Intelligent Design.

In her article, she accurately cites a few examples of dubious overreaching control exercised by copyright holders. Some examples with which Jennifer informs us include...
  • Disney distributing "its movie trailers with a license that says recipients may not use the trailers to criticize the company or the entertainment industry."
  • Diebold's challenge "of college students concerned about election fraud for publishing e-mails in which the company's employees complain about problems with electronic voting machines."
  • Cisco Systems suing "security researcher Mike Lynn for revealing certain information about flaws in its routers"
  • Scientology attacking "critics that document their complaints with excerpts from the church's texts"
  • NBC rejecting "filmmaker Robert Greenwald's request to pay for permission to use a one-minute clip of President Bush fumbling through an explanation for the war in Iraq on the grounds that the clip is "not very flattering to the president."
I agree with Jennifer that these particular examples demonstrate unjust attempts to use copyright privileges in a suspicious and questionable manner. But my question is - what is the intent of those egregiously pushing the power of the copyright envelope?

Disney's intent is clearly to protect itself. Criticism can lead to public backlash which can lead to a loss of profit. Diebold clearly is in the same boat. Any public criticism will expedite the eventual realization that using F/OSS is the only secure way to build an electronic voting infrastructure. Their intent is obviously to protect their position of power and thus their profit. Cisco? Same thing. Self-protection. Scientology? Same thing. After all, you need to silence critics if you are to indoctrinate the masses, crush independent thinking, and propagate your point of view as the "right" one. NBC with Greenwald? Same thing. Criticism of those in power (i.e. Bush) who share a bed with you must be squelched. Anything that may make the president look daft could come back to hurt your bottom-line as a corporate media giant.

But what is the intent of the NAS and the NSTA?

Jennifer says, "But we have to call the game fairly.", and asks - "Where are the copyright liberals when right-wing conservatives need us?"

But I don't see this as a "game" nor do I see the intent in the Kansas case to be fairly conflated with the examples above. Although I do not necessarily agree that the revocation of educational materials would be a positive result, I sincerely believe that the Kansas Board of Education's intent is to protect children and the integrity of scientific discovery - not to protect themselves or any profit mechanism. Personally, I sympathize with their position. If the NAS and the NSTA can wrestle some sense of sanity back into the curriculum with this tactic, then I can only choose to fully support such a maneuver.

Clearly, their intent is authentic and - paradoxically - in the interests of education even though it involves the threat of hoarding curriculum standards.

As Jennifer states - "Kansas is scrambling to rewrite its proposal to win over the NAS and NSTA." Let's wait and see how this pans out before crying foul.


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