Tuesday, September 02, 2008

What is an original work?

I run an online educational service. I'd like to be focused day-in-and-day-out on education and how software and methodology can help kids learn. I'd like to focus on helping to redefining learning. But, I run a company so I actually spend most of my days on issues like credit cards, people management, on marketing, and on my least favorite days, on intellectual property issues.

I'm in the software business and so, we create and use "original works" which can be software programs, images, music, and writing. Much of this is in the public domain in some sense. Some of it is proprietary and belongs to someone and it would be wrong to use.

Being a small company, I avoid spending money on lawyers because....well, it's my money and I'd like to keep it. So this post is an effort to gather my thoughts and maybe some input on what is an original proprietary list.

Ultimately, this is an incredibly grey area which can only be decided on a case-by-case basis by the courts.

Let's start with some items that cannot belong to someone followed in some cases by a caveat:
  • Facts, like the population of the US. But this is limited since some info, like the daily stock market feed, does "belong" to someone.
  • Ideas, like the idea that the planets revolve around the sun and rotate. But some ideas can be patented
  • Original works such as songs, book and poetry. A complete curriculum. A photograph

So could a word list be considered proprietary? I would think not. But then, a dictionary with it's definitions is proprietary as would be a complete vocabulary curriculum. But a list of few hundred words for vocabulary or spelling, could that be considered proprietary? I would think not.

The online world, with google constantly indexing everyone's proprietary sites, providing photos of everyone's houses from above and from the front door (have you seen StreetView on google, it's so amazing!!!!), indexing all the printed books, and generally making information accessible is certainly increasing the focus on these intellectual property issues.



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