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The Blackboard Case – turning learning into private property

February 24th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

I hoped I would never have to write the word ‘Blackboard’ on this blog again. But the news that Blackboard have won their US court case claiming patent infringement against the Canadian D2L platform cannot be allowed to pass unnoticed. For readers new to the blogoshere, Blackboard, the once market leading e-learning vendor, some one and a half years ago obtained a patent claiming they had invented the use of computers for learning (and just about everything else). That the patent is patently 🙂 absurd is of no matter, nether that it is being challenged. As Stephen Downes reports: “The East Texas jury managed to wrap up deliberations in an afternoon and get away for the weekend with a judgement of $3.1 million in favour of Blackboard. The reaction across the web was generally one of dismay, though there were some mitigating factors: first, the settlement was much less than Blackboard as wasking, second, the verdict did not include an injunction against sales of Desire2Learn software, and third, the patent is still under review by the U.S. ”

The issue of patents is not going to go away, even if the review subsequently revokes the Blackboard patent. Ofc ourse as Stephen says the USA uses patent laws to “supplement tariffs and trade restrictions” whilst preaching open trade when it suits them. And it is not just Blackabord that is doing this – in fact it is perhaps surprising no major e-learningc ompany has tried it on before. Only this week Apple applied for a patent for automatically creating customized podcast mashups from various podcasts. The patent filed talks of: “Improved techniques to facilitate generation, management and delivery of personalized media items for users are disclosed. Users are able to influence or control content within a media item being personalized. In one embodiment, personalized media items are podcasts. Users are able to influence or control the content in or with a podcast. In other words, a podcast can be created in accordance with a user’s needs or specifications so that the content within a podcast is customized or personalized for the user.” How the hell can Apple claim a patent for audio mash ups.

And on Friday the Guardian newspaper reported the UK government “is to consult on legislation to punish internet service providers if they fail to take action against the illegal downloading of music, films and TV programmes.

The culture secretary, Andy Burnham, made the proposal to crack down on illegal downloading today as part of a wide-ranging strategy paper designed to support the UK’s creative industries.”

Writing in the same newspaper a day earlier Cory Doctorow explains ” the phrase “intellectual property” is, at root, a dangerous euphemism that leads us to all sorts of faulty reasoning about knowledge. Faulty ideas about knowledge are troublesome at the best of times, but they’re deadly to any country trying to make a transition to a “knowledge economy”.Fundamentally, the stuff we call “intellectual property” is just knowledge – ideas, words, tunes, blueprints, identifiers, secrets, databases. ”

Doctorow goes on to say: “Copyright – with all its quirks, exceptions and carve outs – was, for centuries, a legal regime that attempted to address the unique characteristics of knowledge, rather than pretending to be just another set of rules for the governance of property. The legacy of 40 years of “property talk” is an endless war between intractable positions of ownership, theft and fair dealing.

If we’re going to achieve a lasting peace in the knowledge wars, it’s time to set property aside, time to start recognising that knowledge – valuable, precious, expensive knowledge – isn’t owned. Can’t be owned. The state should regulate our relative interests in the ephemeral realm of thought, but that regulation must be about knowledge, not a clumsy remake of the property system.”

I am not so sure how the state is able to do this. One thing is for sure. All the legislation in the world is not going to pursude young people that music is just a commodity to be bought and sold according tot he rules of copyright. And the ISPs know it. My take – which I have probably written on this blog before – is that capitalism is trying to extend the notion of provate goods into the sphere of ideas. Just as technology makes it easier for us to express ourselves and to make things for oursleves, capitalism tries ot take that right away – and if they can’t stop it happening – they are dammed sure they want a curt of the action.

The Blackboard affair is just another round in this fight. It ultimately represents an attempt to privatise our rights to education and our rights to learning, to turn the means an tools for developing knowledge into a private commodity.

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  1. […] 陪审团在专利案中站在Blackboard一边  继续报导对于Blackboard专利裁决的反应。Chronicle引用了咄咄逼人的John Baker的话:“他们赢了这一回合,但是这场战斗根本没有结束,”John Baker,Desire2Learn的总裁和首席执行官在周五的一次采访中如是说。“我们将继续斗争,希望能将这片笼罩在教育社区的乌云驱散。Sakai 基金会则以深思熟虑的口气说,“这绝非这场专利之争的结束,也不是其中最重要的部分。”Graham Attwell写道,“Blackboard事件只是战斗的一个回合而已。它最终代表将我们的教育权利和学习权利私有化,把培养知识的方法和工具转化为私有商品的企图。”的确如此。Doug Lederman, Inside Higher Ed February 25, 2008 [原文链接] [Tags: Patents, Copyrights, Blackboard Inc., Patents] [参与评论] […]

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