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Severe Civil and Criminal Penalties
by Tim Romero

"Luddite Press, Customer Service. How may I help you?"

I think I have a defective book here. I recently received a copy of "E-Commerce at the Speed of Thought" by Gill Bates, but it seems that every third page is blank.

"You must have a demo copy. The demo allows you to determine if the types of ideas expressed are of interest to you, but does not actually contain any useful information. A limited single-reader license costs $14.95 and will allow you access to the intellectual property presented in the book according to the terms we dictate."

OK, that seems reasonable. I do a lot of consulting on e-commerce and I'm quite interested in what Mr. Bates has to say about it.

"Excuse me sir, but that is expressly forbidden by the licensing agreement. You are permitted to keep only one copy of our ideas in your memory and one hardcopy as backup. Transferring our ideas to another person's memory without purchasing additional licenses is a violation of intellectual property law and may result in severe civil and criminal penalties. You should also be aware that the bundling clause requires you to present the ideas from the book in full and unaltered."

Don't you think that's a bit strict? I mean, I might not even agree with all of Mr. Bates' ideas.

"I'm sorry, the product must be presented as a whole or not at all. This is necessary to preserve the integrity of our intellectual property. You are, of course, free to include competing ideas from other publishers upon receipt of express written permission from Luddite Press."

Come now. How can you claim that every word and idea expressed in the book are your exclusive intellectual property? Nothing in this world is completely original. Everything builds on work that came before it. I don't want to copy Mr. Bates' book wholesale. I just want to read it, study it, learn from it, and develop my own opinions based on it.

"Sir, you may not realize the extreme illegality of what you are suggesting, and I'm sure you do not intentionally wish to break the law. However, reverse engineering our intellectual property may result in severe civil and criminal penalties. Mr. Bates and Luddite Press spent years developing these ideas. We have the exclusive right to determine how they can be used. You do not have the right to attempt to understand how the ideas were derived, to alter them, or to attempt to correct any facts that you perceive to be wrong."

OK, OK. I'll pay the $14.95 license fee, promise never to breathe a word about the ideas presented, and to not attempt to understand how Mr. Bates reached his conclusions.

"Thank you sir. And with the E-commerce world changing so fast, surely you will want to be notified when you can purchase updates to the book."

Thanks for the offer, but once I understand the basics, I think I can figure out how to adapt to changes on my own.

"Sir, I must inform you that your persistent threats to commit a criminal offense could result in a police investigation. You do not have the right to develop or change our property. If you wish to continue using our ideas, you must pay for the upgrades."

But the ideas in your book will be obsolete within a year. Companies have to adapt to changing times.

"If you do not wish to pay for the upgrades, you are free to either use the old ideas exactly as presented or to reengineer your corporation to remove all traces of our intellectual property. Most companies find it more cost effective to buy the upgrades. Besides, the upgrades often contain completely new ideas as well as updated and corrected ones. This arrangement benefits everyone. If consumers could freely use and develop our intellectual property, no one would ever bother to pay for a book."

This may sound crazy, but perhaps you could publish books that contain new and genuinely useful information and sell them at prices that consumers would pay without being threatened with lawsuits.

"It's an interesting idea, but giving away intellectual property like that is simply not a workable business model in any field. No one would be willing to write a business-related book if he knew his ideas would not be protected. If readers, even unlicensed readers, could take our intellectual property and use it without paying us ongoing fees, there would be no incentive to create new works."

"Why, if other publishing companies were free to study our authors' use of word choice, sentence structure, and metaphor, our competitive advantage would be completely destroyed, and a vital section of the economy would disappear overnight. And do you image for a minute that the movie industry could survive if budding writers and directors were permitted to reverse engineer the competition's products and study their use of lighting, camera angles, or plot and character development?"

"Such lawlessness is a threat not only to our industry, but to our way of life. Taking someone else's intellectual property and attempting to understand or modify it is not only immoral, but illegal and may result in severe ..."

... civil and criminal penalties. Yes, I know.

Copyright © 1999 by Tim Romero. All rights reserved. Used by permission.


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Copyright 1999 Computing Japan Magazine
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