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Intellectual Property Symposium at Drexel

Last Friday, when most of you were probably studying for or taking exams, Drexel University Libraries sponsored a symposium on Intellectual Property Rights. Ed Greenlee, Bill Draper, Pat Callahan, and I were in attendance.

Soon, you'll be able to get the recordings and presentations from the sympoisum on the Drexel University Libraries homepage. But for now, here's my report of the day's discussion.

As I have suggested in previous entries, the current debate over the intersection of copyright, intellectual property, and the digital era is a topic in which libraries and lawyers (and lawyers-to-be) share a particular interest.

The symposium's morning session focused on copyright in the age of the Internet. The first speaker was Villanova Professor of Law Michael W. Carroll, one of the founders of Creative Commons, an online organization that provides licenses with fewer restrictions than traditional copyright licenses. The objective of Creative Commons is to promote the exchange of intellectual property while protecting certain basic rights of creators. Carroll provided a crash course in the history of copyright ("500 years in 5 minutes," as the breezy introduction was called), followed by an overview of the Creative Commons project and its appropriation in the realm of music, video, photography, research, and the blogosphere. Carroll's insightful, informative discussion implied a new way forward for copyright law.

NYU Culture and Communications Professor Siva Vaidhayanathan followed Carroll with his take on the Google Book Search program, which has garnered both acclaim and criticism for mass-digitization projects with a number of high-profile research libraries. Pointing to problems with Google's searching algorithm, the lack of transparency with which Google contracted the work with its partners, and the imminent showdown between the Internet search giant and copyright holders over the "fair use" provision, Vaidhayanathan urged healthy skepticism over credulous embrace when met with one corporation’s stated goal to organize the world's information.

A panel discussion with Carroll, Vaidhayanathan, Marcy Rauer Wagman (Director of the Music Industry Program at Drexel), and Neal Orkin (Associate Professor of Legal Studies at LeBow's College of Business) rounded out the morning session.

The afternoon session started off with an overview of U.S. Patent Law with Martin Finston, whose job is to secure patents for a high-tech company he works for.

Robert McGrath, the Associate Vice Provost at Drexel, talked about how Drexel patents its professor's research, particularly in the fields of Engineering and Pharmaceuticals, to generate a revenue stream for the school that it uses to reinvest in further research and education.

During the afternoon panel discussion, McGrath's presentation raised many questions regarding the ethics of such a model. One audience member essentially asked if the twin missions of education and business were so opposed as to compromise one another. I asked a similar question: how does Drexel make sure that it develops research with an eye on scholarship and not the market? To his credit, McGrath was relatively successful in assuaging our concerns that, in licensing its research, Drexel was not abandoning its core education values.

Before the beginning of the afternoon panel discussion, the moderator asked the audience who was in favor of looser restrictions on intellectual property, and who was for keeping IP laws as-is. Very few hands shot up for either question, suggesting that it's difficult to think of the issues raised in the Intellectual Property symposium in binaries of "pro-" or "anti-." Drexel's program raised more questions than it answered, which is the mark of any good symposium.