I attended the Internet Collaboration: Charting the Waters of Virtual Worlds, Web 2.0, and the GPLsymposium last Friday. I loved it. But I am biased, because I’m very interested in social networks, virtual worlds, and F/OSS (Free and Open Source Software), all of which were covered at the event. In-house counsel from Facebook, Linden Lab, and Sun Microsystems were on hand. Academics who had spent time researching the legal ramifications of emerging Internet social frameworks delivered findings. Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a speech on privacy, which served as a reminder that you don’t have to be a Luddite to be concerned about the loss of privacy new forms of online interaction can bring. Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, and creator of the GNU Public License (GPL) was also present. Stallman is known for his outspoken political beliefs and his attention to semantics. He reiterated his “It’s GNU/Linux, not Linux” mantra, and fired a few salvoes into the panel moderator for calling him the “father of the Open Source movement.” He also took issue with “intellectual property,” a term he considers propagandistic and misleading. Stallman’s argument is that copyright, patents, trademark, and trade secret laws are quite different from each other. Copyright and patent law both spring from the same clause in the Constitution, while unfair competition (trademark and trade secrets) derive from common law and statute. Perhaps Stallman is concerned that use of the term “intellectual property” is one of the reasons we now have sui generis protection for boat hull designs and plants. The more broadly the term is used, the more broadly the right of legal protection is interpreted, and the more likely courts are to expand the scope of property rights in the expression of ideas. In a conversation after the panel discussion, he forwarded the notion that the term also distorts public understanding of the separate concepts involved. If the term “intellectual property” is dangerously sloppy, are we only to refer to copyright, patent, and unfair competition law as separate disciplines? Is there a better framework for bringing some or all of these disciplines under one roof? If Stallman is incorrect, is convenience the best rationale for sticking all of these branches on one tree, or is there some more fundamental rationale for dismissing Stallman’s critique?

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