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(Not So) Intellectual Property

Among the many stumbling blocks that face rights-holders in the Internet Age, one of the more confounding is… other rights-holders.

Take, for example, the case of investigative reporter Teri Buhl, who recently decided that she could retroactively declare all of her tweets to be “off the record,” and therefor unable to be legally copied and disseminated by other Twitter users.

Setting aside for a moment how fundamentally impractical this notion is, given what Twitter is and how it functions, it’s also an incredibly stupid one. Noted First Amendment attorney (and official Friend of DMCA Force) Marc Randazza summarized it as “moronic” — and knowing Marc, that’s him being charitable.

Why does it matter? Why do things like this get under my skin?

Given how eager many in the media (and tech-focused media in particular) are to find any and every conceivable basis to argue that copyright laws are stifling innovation and chilling free speech, incidents like this get a lot of play, every time.

Those same media outlets aren’t going to give much page space to the millions and millions of examples of clear, unambiguous copyright infringement that happen on a daily basis, but they will giddily pile on example after example of rights-holders (or people who imagine themselves to be such) doing stupid things, whether by accident or of their own unwise volition.

It’s not right, and it’s not fair, but it’s the way of the Web.

My point, I suppose, is that if you’re a rights-holder who thinks that he has come up with some brilliant, novel means of applying intellectual property law, and you aren’t also an expert in intellectual property law, you are probably wrong. As such, when these innovative approaches to IP enforcement strike you, it’s probably worth a phone call to your attorney to confirm that you’re not about to embarrass yourself — and, by extension, the rest of us, as well.