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Re: [ontolog-forum] Copyright in Taxonomies: Leading case in US law (ADA

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Christopher Menzel <cmenzel@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 30 Oct 2010 18:53:15 -0500
Message-id: <7707D7B5-46CA-4EAE-889D-5043B2815D60@xxxxxxxx>
On Oct 29, 2010, at 7:46 PM, Research <research@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

If really think W. has been that influential in contemporary philosophy of science you need to read a bit more widely.

[Peter:] A cheap shot. That is not what I said. I suggested only that he had *started* to pick away at the “folk theory” of classification that had been around and been unquestioningly assumed for so long. Lakoff wasn’t necessarily original but he is to be commended for bringing the work of many critics of this ‘classical’ approach to a wider audience than navel-gazing philosophers.

My apologies for the cheap shot. I did not read what you'd written carefully. However, your comment (cheap shot?) about naval-gazing philosophers does suggest perhaps you aren't aware of the broad impact outside of philosophy proper of many philosophers, especially in ethics, political philosophy, and cognitive science. Lakoff's own co-author on Metaphors We Live By, Mark Johnson, you might have forgotten, is a philosopher at the University of Oregon. And of course many philosophers are actively engaged in ontological engineering.     

Back to my central and main observation: as all classification systems are the product of human creativity, they are eminently copyrightable. 

From which it sure seems to follow that the classification of, say, natural numbers into primes and composites, the reals into algebraic and transcendental, and functions into computable or uncomputable are all "eminently copyrightable".  So too the classification of the elements in the periodic table; the classification of subatomic particles into leptons and quarks, blood into its various types, microbes into archaea, bacteria, fungi, viruses, protista, and symbionts, etc.  Your thesis is not only philosophically untenable but, it seems to me, appalling and dangerous, as its logical end is the corporate ownership of every aspect of scientific and mathematical knowledge.

[Peter:] You really need to read a bit more widely on the subject of copyright! ;-)

I'm sure this is so.  It is one reason why I suggested it might be a fruitful topic to explore further in this forum.

I am talking about ‘classification systems’ not ‘classifications’, by which I mean the human desire, propensity and endeavour to group things in tidy boxes rather than any (arguably) objectively discernable and testable ‘natural’ classifications.

I'm afraid I am not clear on the distinction. You suggested the periodic table was copyrightable. That suggests it is a classification system. And it is certainly tidy. But most scientists would agree that it is also an objectively discernible and testable natural classification, wouldn't they?   

It is telling that you don’t claim ‘numbers’ as a classification – “the category number is not bounded in any natural way and it can be limited or extended depending on one’s purpose”, such as transcendental, real, rational, etc. as you rightly point out. For me, “limited or extended depending on one’s purpose” implies human agency and thus a system, not a natural state. So, yes, I would argue that such systems are copyrightable.

I think most mathematicians would argue that those various categories are as "objectively discernible" as mathematics gets. The reals, recall (at least, as the story goes) arose initially through the discovery that the length of the diameter of a unit square is not the ratio of two whole numbers. Transcendentals got a foothold through the proof that pi is not the root of any polynomial. And so on. It seems much truer to the history to hold that the various types of number were discoveries, not conveniences driven by the desire for tidy boxes.       

 Could Mendeleev have copyrighted his Periodic Table? Yes. Did he? No.

Are there are other periodic tables other than his? Yes. Are any of these copyrighted? Yes.

Of course, it doesn't follow that this is a good idea. Whether it is is the question, no? 

Copyright is basically an essential claim by a human agent to be identified and recognised as the creator of some original piece of work. How copyright is declared, asserted and defended, are the subject of different legal systems and interpretations.

Behind me on my bookshelf I have a first edition copy of Gödel’s ‘Formally Undecidable Propositions’ which carries a copyright notice but no-one would argue that any of the formal statements or formulae therein are copyrightable. What is copyrighted is his _expression_ (or ‘fixation’ in copyright parlance).

Yes, the very words he used, right?  But not the incompleteness of arithmetic.  It seems to me, however, that the suggestion that the classification of numbers into natural, rational, algebraic, transcendental, complex, etc is copyrightable is very much like the suggestion that Gödel could have copyrighted incompleteness. Or, perhaps a closer parallel, upon proving incompleteness, he could have copyrighted the division of theories into complete and incomplete or of functions into total computable, partial computable, and uncomputable. Why not?  

Copyright is not the same as – nor does it imply – something being patentable, licensable or otherwise financially exploitable, which *are* legitimate concerns? I agree. The extent to which these issues are inexorably or only tangentially linked to copyright is a matter of legal interpretation, case and statute law – to which I think Simon was hinting in his original post.

Doesn't that suggest, though, that in allowing such freedom to copyright we risk legal interpretations which could lead to control over the free dissemination of ideas, of scientific and mathematical knowledge?   

Your pompous and, dare I say, illogical leap to the conclusion that “my thesis…as its logical end is the corporate ownership of every aspect of scientific and mathematical knowledge”, my friend, is what is dangerous in this exchange! The stench of moral outrage is no doubt invigorating to some but it really doesn’t have a place in this discussion.

I find the charge of pomposity so framed a bit hilarious, but let's move on. ;-)  If the root of your charge of illogicality is simply that corporate ownership of sci & math knowledge is not an *inevitable* consequence of your view of copyrighting, then I agree.  It is not inevitable. My concern is the one expressed a bit more carefully in my previous comment. It seems to me that it greatly increases the *risk* of such ownership. I would love to be convinced otherwise.

As to that reeking moral outrage, I'm afraid I am nonplussed. I said I was appalled at the implications of your thesis because it seemed to me (perhaps wrongly) to threaten the free exchange of ideas.  No moral implications were intended. I was appalled by the idea the way I might be appalled by the implications of, say, a poor public policy decision for a historic neighborhood, or a poor Supreme Court decision on the democratic process. It was a reaction to what seems to be a Really Bad Idea, not an _expression_ of moral outrage.     

 That's all I will say about realism/anti-realism, a topic that has serious rabbit-hole potential and, hence, is best avoided in this forum, [Peter:] aka “my way or the highway”?

This implies that I have power that I do not; I am not a moderator on this list.  My remark was nothing more than a recommendation.

which already too often consists in idle speculation and free association (h/t Ed B.). The issue of copyrighting scientific knowledge, by contrast, does have important practical upshot and warrants further discussion.

[Peter:] If you were to re-word your assertion to “the issue of exploiting the copyright of scientific knowledge...”, I would have no disagreement.

And thus my worry: that excessive copyrighting will open the door to exactly that sort of exploitation.  Again, I will be quite happy to be convinced that my concerns are ill-founded.  



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