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Steve Pugh © 1998


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This article is copyright 1998 by Stephen Pugh. Not that it matters much. If someone wants to pass this or any other article off as their own, all they have to do is cut and paste.

In the past, of course, they had to go to the trouble of re-typing everything. The internet just makes it a whole lot easier to thieve the fruits of people's intellectual labour. And, in those small pockets of the internet where the content is good enough to be plagiarised, intellectual property criminals can run wild.

Of course, the up-side of living in the late 1990s is that tracking intellectual property theft is much easier than it has ever been, with the farrago of internet search engines now trawling the web. In fact, another piece that I had placed on my web site was recently submitted to an archive under someone else's name. I managed to sort that out through a judicious mix of pseudo-legal letters and physical intimidation, but increasingly I have realised that the nature of the Internet is going to force us to re-evaluate the nature of intellectual property rights. There is, however, a big difference between plagiarism before the internet era, and plagiarism since. In the past, finding out that someone had nicked your ideas was the tough part.

Now, when you can instantly search the ether for a tell-tale phrase in someone else's "original" history of Star Trek, the difficulty lies not in detection, but in proving that you had the idea first. The law in many countries protects my right as the author to determine under what circumstances my work may be used. If someone uses my work without permission I can take them to court and gain all the usual stuff (injunctions, damages, etc.). But how can I, sitting here in the UK, be expected to start legal proceedings against someone in Canada or Zimbabwe or Taiwan? I'm not Microsoft or Sony: I don't have those sort of resources. And since I don't have a legally acceptable way of proving that I was first, the big guys will always win.

This is a familiar story. We are in a situation where only the rich and powerful are able to protect their intellectual property rights. This results in copyright no longer being about intellectual rights but instead about commercial rights. Already the law in the United States is moving in this direction. For example, it is only possible to fight a copyright infringement in the courts if you have registered the copyright (which costs money).

There are one or two ways round this. One option is to register yourself and your output as legal entities in the Cayman Islands - a process through which certain erstwhile Turtle contributors would be more than willing to guide you. Another is to submit material to public and independent archives. Certified mailing hard-copies of your work to yourself is also a cumbersome but fairly standard way of protecting yourself. Ultimately, though, to paraphrase Wilfred Beckerman (the Turtle's favourite Green), "the best - and possibly only way to attain a decent level of intellectual property protection in most countries is to become rich."




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