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   Joint ownership of the data-dataContainer combination

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In a message dated 19/04/2003 15:59:03 GMT Daylight Time, frank@therichards.org writes:

On Sat, 2003-04-19 at 09:51, AndrewWatt2000@aol.com wrote:

> If I read other of your comments correctly you seem to be agreeing that this
> data-dataContainer combination is currently "jointly owned". Or is "jointly
> controlled" less provocative? You also seem to be saying that you
> passionately want to change that situation.

I find "jointly controlled" less provocative because it is true. I
vehemently denounce the phrase "jointly owned" because it is untrue

In the rough and tumble of email interaction it is easy to lose sight of key issues, so I am going to summarise certain salient points here which, I suggest, together make a compelling case that there is joint ownership (I stay with that term quite consciously) of what I have termed the data-dataContainer combination.

To illustrate the case I am going to use the example of a Microsoft Word file but it seems to me that the case can be similarly made for many other, perhaps all other, proprietary file formats. I am assuming that the Microsoft .doc file format is a "data container".

So for this example, given that data can be added to the .doc data container, the data-dataContainer combination is a Microsoft Word .doc file.

If we open a new Microsoft Word document and save it without adding any data, we produce a file in the .doc format. Apart possibly from the file name just about everything in that file belongs to Microsoft, since the .doc file format is proprietary to Microsoft.

Given that the .doc file format is proprietary (anyone disputing that aspect?) the content of the .doc file at that stage, being in this case virtually wholly Microsoft proprietary material, belongs to Microsoft.

Microsoft has licensed us a tool to manipulate that file, but the file format (the data container) continues to belong to Microsoft.

As, in a more real life scenario, the user adds whatever characters make sense in the context the user adds his/her data to the data-dataContainer combination. The user "owns" the added data ("data" is a term that deserves greater examination at another time) but nothing the user does removes the ownership that Microsoft has of the file format.

The real-life Word file has content which is proprietary to Microsoft i.e. owned by Microsoft and content which (we assume) is owned by the user. The data-dataContainer combination is, therefore, jointly owned.

To express the same idea less anecdotally:
1. Microsoft owns the .doc file format
2. A real-life data-dataContainer combination of a Word file contains contributions from the user (who, we assume, owns the data he/she adds) together with the Microsoft file format (which Microsoft continues to own).

It seems to me that in order to disprove joint ownership of the data-dataContainer combination it would be necessary to prove at least one of the following:

1. Microsoft doesn't own the .doc file format (I don't know of anyone suggesting that, given IP law as it currently exists)
2. The file format owned by Microsoft is absent from a user's .doc file.
3. That a typical Microsoft .doc file is not a combination of user-supplied characters ("data") and a proprietary Microsoft file format ("dataContainer").

To my, perhaps simplistic, viewpoint QED - there is joint ownership of the data-dataContainer combination.

I am sure that if there are weaknesses in my proposition they will be identified with vigour and alacrity. <grin/>

There are many interesting, and perhaps anxiety generating, issues to discuss about what rights ownership might or might not convey in this setting and whether or not an owner would/could choose to impose any rights/powers granted by ownership.

For the moment I suggest we simply limit ourselves to a logical examination of the proposition of whether a data-dataContainer combination is jointly owned.

I can readily imagine that many on this list might take the view "OK I admit there is joint ownership but I hate that and want to change it ASAP.". That seems to me to be a rational position. I am dubious about whether it is a rational position to attempt to deny joint ownership.

Over to those who care to attempt to disprove my, fairly informal, thesis that Microsoft has joint ownership of a Microsoft Word file, as a consequence of their ownership of the file format which forms part of such a file.

Andrew Watt


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