October 27, 2005

Copyright and the Evolution Wars

Filed under: open — Wendy @ 6:52 pm

Proving the (uncopyrighted) adage that everything turns into a copyright issue if you look at it long enough, the NYT reports that 2 Science Groups Say Kansas Can’t Use Their Evolution Papers — and they’re using copyright to stop it.

Two leading science organizations have denied the Kansas board of education permission to use their copyrighted materials in the state’s proposed new science standards because of the standards’ critical approach to evolution.

The National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association said the much-disputed new standards “will put the students of Kansas at a competitive disadvantage as they take their place in the world.”

Apparently, the Kansas standards document quoted extensively from NAS and NSTA reports in the process of singling out evolution as a controversial theory. The organizations denied permission, but (and I haven’t seen the Kansas report myself) unless the use was so extensive as to misappropriate the organizations’ reports, it could still have been a fair use. (To be fair, the fault lies as much with the Kansas board of education for thinking it needed permission, if its uses were fair.)

Even though my politics are more flying spaghetti monster than “intelligent design,” I don’t think this is a proper use for copyright. Copyright is not about endorsement or agreement, and it’s not a right to stop criticism, even ill-considered criticism. Quotation can be fair use even in a context the original author abhors — that’s precisely when we need fair use most, we on all sides of a political debate.

The organizations are free to broadcast their loud disapproval of the uses to which their publications are being put, and free to sue for misrepresentation if false statements or positions are put into their mouths, but asserting copyright rights seems a heavy-handed way to win a battle of ideas.

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