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Intellectual Property and Controversy

Sketch of a polar bear by Doctor J. Dewey Soper. The polar bear has captured the imaginations of Canadians, and has become a symbol of our northern territories. In 2000, there were approximately 80 trademarked polar bear designs in Canada. Intellectual property is any original creation by an individual, and while that sounds simple enough, in today’s world defining an "original creation" can be pretty tough—it may be an idea, a diary, a song, a living organism or an automobile design. Intellectual property, consequently, is a diverse and can be extremely controversial. The difficulty stems from five main areas

  • Debate over who holds the rights to work after the death of the artist or inventor. When does intellectual property become part of the public domain?
  • The uncertain status of originality. If a musician combines many samples of previous recordings, is the new recording original? What about the rights of the previous artists?
  • The prevalence of technology that makes it easy to copy any original. Major film corporations are often accused of video piracy and at times, pirated versions of films are often available before the original is even released
  • The incomplete nature of patenting and copyright. If you don’t copyright or patent your original creation according to law, are your rights protected?
  • Differences in culture and country. While it may be illegal to copy a certain process or product in one country, the same copying may be tolerated in another.

Issues related to intellectual property and the related debates over the right to use or reproduce original creations permeate through society, and are not only related to what you might consider as traditional intellectual property and invention. The debate surrounding free-music sharing websites is a current and well-known example of this. Consider this: if all of the songs of your favourite Alberta singer were available on the Internet for free, how would the artist be compensated for their intellectual property? That is why record companies and major music groups have made a point of trying to protect their rights (ironically, the popularity of a song makes the chances of it being copied all the more likely). It is clear that because of the ease of access to all forms of intellectual property that our wired world provides, all sectors of business, innovation and the arts, face major challenges regarding intellectual property.

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