Copyright madness: I cannot send an email about what I create at work.

I was discussing with a collegue friday about putting the slides we prepare on the Web. In fact, our job contract states that everything we “create” during work hours belongs to our employer. This means the total copyright on the slides I create is not mine but of my employer, but this also means that the total copyright on the emails I create is not mine (sometime there is much more value in an email than in a presentation). This means I have no right to let other people see my emails (I don’t have the copyright over them), so basically I cannot send emails dealing with what I produce during job hours to anyone!. Do you see any error in this line of reasoning or copyright is just creating some insane situations? [Needless to say, blogging about stuff related to job is totally out of question, especially releasing words under a Creative Commons licence, as I do. Anyway, as you can see, I’m for intelligent interpretation of rules and I do blog about what my research is about.]

5 thoughts on “Copyright madness: I cannot send an email about what I create at work.

  1. Francesco

    I almost always sympathize with your positions regarding freedom of speech and intellectual property rights, although I think you must understand that we are “knowledge workers”, that is, we work for companies and/or insitutions that keep existing because they are somewhat able to economically exploit (maybe indirectly) the intellectual property we produce. If you don’t like it, you are free to became self-employed, be the full owner of the IP rights you produce, and sell them to pay your bills. This is in part my current approach.

    However, I too have copyright problems, so, as an example, I blog only about my academic activity, and not about my professional activity (although they are somewhat related…)

    What I don’t like, it’s that the companies I work for, somewhat exploits only a small fraction of the potential of the things I produce (trivially… when I develop some piece of software I always try to solve problems at the highest level of abstraction, so it could be used in many different situations… which does not happen to be the case).

    A solution I am seriously taking into consideration, is to develop some software on my spare time, publish it as LGPL, and then license it back to my customers ad a consultant. My customers are already using a lot of open source software, so it is somewhat natural. Of course it’s not so easy as it seems.

  2. paolo

    Of course it is not easy, otherwise why would it be an interesting topic to speak/research about? ;-)

    I guess it is normal to have an inertia for “old safe world”, the world is changing so fast that it is scary sometimes (especially as, as you say, you are the boss of the company and, at the end of the month, your employers comes to ask money and not interesting discussions about new business models or freedom of knowledge).

    Releasing under Free Software licence and then rerelease I think is a great idea (and I know it is not easy! My institute (was public) did release almost nothing as Free Software while, in some sense, citizens have already paid for it via their taxes). MySql has an interesting way of double-licencing but I don’t remember very well it.

    Anyway, do you agree that, according to my contract, I cannot send an email to anyone describing a new or old idea?

  3. Francesco

    Paradoxical as it seems, I have no simple answer to your question.
    We don’t have yet an answer to the intellectual property problem; I am convinced, for example, that american-style patents on algorithms are really deplorable, but on the other side, if you work for a technology-based company you could literally “send away” all the main assets of the company with a mail. Not only the boss, but also the employees should be worried about that!

  4. paolo

    A small point: Gauss and Fourier were knowledge workers, right? Their universities didn’t patent their theorems, right? You might say that universities are (were?) public institution but so is (was) my research institute as well. At least research coming from Universities should be released under “gpl-like” or “creative commons-like” licences. And private companies probably will have better businesses (reputation and the like) doing the same as well.

  5. Francesco

    Agreed. However, finding value and balance in attention… reputation… competitive advantages… secrecy… knowledge exchange… is not new problem. Pytagoreans were famous for keeping their things hidden, long before Gauss, patent laws and modern corporations. Again, it’s no easy matter. Is it wrong if a public institution exploits patents in order to gain more funds and do more research? It’s no rethoric question, and I don’t know the answer, I think it’s a matter of balance, ethics and politics (in the good sense of the word).

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