Copyright Misuse in the Evolution/Intelligent Design Debate

Wired has a nice editorial on why supporters of evolution are wrong.

It’s okay, it’s okay. Steady yourself. You read that right. Supporters of evolution are wrong.

But not about evolution - instead, they’re wrong to misuse their copyrights to enforce their position. Specifically, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) own some of the copyrights to teaching materials used for teaching a standard science curriculum. After Kansas voted in favor of alternative theories to evolution, these organizations threatened to withhold permission to use their material unless the board of education changed its tune.

Let’s get one thing straight: What they are doing is completely legal. But it shouldn’t be. Stifling the free exchange of ideas is appalling, especially in an arena so fundamentally based on such an exchange. The copyright is morphing from a mere publishing monopoly into a tool for controlling or eliminating any speech or act with which the owner disagrees.

The author of the editorial lists several examples, but here’s one he missed: Lexmark, a manufacturer of printers and ink cartridges, sued a third-party manufacturer of ink cartridges for violation of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) because they reverse engineered a so-called encryption scheme used by Lexmark to ensure that their printers would only work with Lexmark ink cartridges. In a case of ridiculously over-broad lawmaking, the DMCA criminalizes reverse engineering any copy protection scheme, as well as providing for civil action against the offender. In essence, Lexmark tried to prohibit cheaper ink cartridges by leveraging a copyright.

A copyright? A copyright was supposed to prevent people from illegally printing another’s book! Fortunately, the case was finally quashed on appeal, but even the vaguest notion that copyright law might protect a printer cartridge is a powerful example of how broken the system really is.

So while I applaud the NSA and NSTA for fighting against the encroachment of psuedo-science into our nation’s classrooms, they should be ashamed of taking advantage of the broken copyright system to that end.