Another digression, based on current news:
Though it isn't necessarily an abuse, and is (now) a precedent in UK case law, not US, a recent court case involving a photograph may have distressing implications in widely disparate fields. Though the second photo, now ruled infringing, was taken independently at a public place, is not identical, and has a different POV, the similarities, including post-processing is unmistakeable (see both of them in this DP_Review article
the judge ruled that the second photographer was clearly inspired by the original, but the leap is in saying that the "idea" was an infringeable property, where previously copyright only covered products, not thoughts. Though I can see where the judge is coming from, this is nonetheless unnerving. I truly shudder to think of the immense impact this would have had on the advancement of our culture -- and the chilling effect it would have in the future of our culture, if upheld and extended.
Amateur Photographer (UK): "Photographers face copyright threat after shock ruling
This issue has broad-reaching effects in technology and commerce, as well. To me, this was best illustrated by the famous Lotus 1-2-3 "look and feel" case. In the 1970s, Apple's Break-through "killer app", the program that made the Apple II really take off, was Visicalc by Personal Software (later renamed VisiCorp after the unexpected runaway success of the product), the first desktop spreadsheet program. It's really impossible to overstate the effect this program had on business worldwide in the late 20th century. Mitch Kapoor, a friend and employee of VisiCalc's authors went on to start Lotus Software with Lotus 1-2-3, an IBM-PC version of VisiCalc, as its flagship product -- and suddenly IBM's
killer app (a situation somewhat reminiscent of Zuckerberg's Facebook vs. the Winkelvoss twins and Divya Narenda, which may help highlight how the culture of teh software world has changed).
Microsoft already had a spreadsheet on the market (Multiplan), but Lotus 1-2-3, based closely on VisiCalc, became much more popular. Needless to say, countless others entered this thriving market, too, but unlike VisiCorp, Lotus fought hard against the competition, finally suing Borland (then a major software publisher) for selling a program with an independently written interface and features that were similar to the feature set of 1-2-3. The courts held that "look and feel" were not de facto
infringements, though specific trademarked or design-patent elements may be.
Apple Corp (which IMHO was a totally different company after the introduction of the Mac) became known for strenuously fighting any product similar to its own (and still does today: e.g. it sued over some Samsung phones, though the iPhone/iPad are *powered* by Samsung chips, and some earlier Samsung products --and the 1968 film "2001: a Space Odyssey"-- had used some of those "infringing" design elements before Apple did) The landmark showdown to decide this issue was expected to be Apple's lawsuit against Microsoft over the Windows Operating System, but Apple, perhaps worried by the outcome of Lotus' "look and feel" lawsuit, settled, so the issue was never completely decided.
"Look and feel", "original idea" and a bevy of related issues have been a staple of consumer technology litigation ever since -- with an already well-known chilling effect on innovation and the spread of
innovation. Few companies even marshal the resources for such a battle anymore. Though courts have generally held that one can patent inventions and specific implementations ("creations") not ideas -- especially in the arts (imagine if plot themes, character traits, twists or philosophical views could be owned for decades/centuries by one author/corp)-- one never really knows how a specific judge will rule, or how much time/expense such a case will require.
It's certainly a topic worthy of debate.
Perhaps, in the era of high speed media/internet, where a decade is an eternity for corporate, technology and even national competitiveness, we should consider *shortening* patents and the like rather than lengthening them?