For my third proposed Intellectual Property Responsibility, I turn again to the world of copyright. I want to highlight the problem of CopyFraud, which is described in a recent article of that name by Jason Mazzone, an Assistant Professor at the Brooklyn Law School. The most common instance of CopyFraud involves people and firms falsely claiming copyright in public domain materials. Says Professor Mazzone:
Copyfraud is everywhere. False copyright notices appear on modern reprints of Shakespeare's plays, Beethoven's piano scores, greeting card versions of Monet's Water Lillies, and even the U.S. Constitution. Archives claim blanket copyrights in everything in their collections. Vendors of microfilmed versions of historical newspapers assert copyright ownership. These false copyright claims, which are often accompanied by threatened litigation for producing a work without the “owners's” permission, result in users seeking licenses and paying fees to reproduce works that are free for everyone to use.
As Professor Mazzone notes, U.S. copyright law provides no civil penalties for CopyFraud, and criminal prosecutions, while theoretically available, aren't brought (apparently the FBI is too busy chasing down DVD pirates to worry about abuse of the IP system by owners).
So I propose Intellectual Property Responsibility #3 — IP owners shall not claim ownership in public domain materials. And I think the copyright law should be amended to enforce this responsibility with a stinging civil penalty (less punishing, of course, for inadvertant misrepresentations).