In an interview with Technology Review, Bruce Lehman shows the narrowing of thought that comes from seeing “intellectual property” as the universal answer. Lehman, head of the U.S. Patent Office in the Clinton Administration, was influential in passage of the DMCA. Lehman has been evangelizing strong IP to developing countries.
LEHMAN: There’s a technology consortium in Cairo that had made digital images of all of the artifacts in the collection of the Egyptian Museum. They called up WIPO and said, “Look, we might want to put these out on the Web. What should we do about it?” And the response was: call the IIPI. And we talked to them and told them, “No, dont do that just quite yet.” We sent a copyright lawyer to help them understand that when you create a visual image of something, even though it might be in the public domain, that you can copyright it and that you should license these things.
In other words, instead of sharing its culture with the world, contributing to historical investigation, and earning further renown (and visitors), the museum should restrict and license access to its images. The musem’s website isn’t even loading at the moment. How many more people might be able to see and learn from the artifacts if the digitized images were freely available for mirroring and sharing?