The following is a short story I've written for an online competition about the future of copyright the rules stipulated online publication). If that interests you at all you can check it out at http://www.indiegogo.com/Future-of-Copyright If you chip in some money for the prize you'll receive an ebook with selected texts from the competition. To make this absolutely clear I offer the following text under creative commons license.
“Studio throwing to you in, 3, 2...” The misshapen lump of ear-pieces, sweat and sandwich that was the cameraman didn't say the “one,” instead just pointing at the collection of make-up, shoulder-pads and failed dreams holding the microphone before the unflinching gaze of the camera.
“Jim, the second day of this potentially world-changing case starts in just few moments. Yesterday was very much a day of formalities with very little of the meat of the case. Gentech's legal team spent most of the day presenting the fairly complicated technical information that they felt the jury needed in order to verify the claims they are making. Today it's expected that they'll be calling Mr McQuinn to the stand.” Here she paused for a moment whilst the haircut in the studio cut across her. “That's right Jim, Mr McQuinn is the man at the heart of this case. Gentech works at the forefront of what is still a fairly new industry, there has been talk in legal circles for sometime about how current copyright law would be applicable to Gentech's products.” Another pause whilst the studio asked another inane question. “Yes. Many people within the industry are looking at keeping a very close eye on this case and, should this case go the way Gentech is banking it will, we could well see a slew of similar lawsuits.” She paused for a moment before finishing. “Thanks Jim.”
Within seconds her microphone was off and she was strutting away from the camera, all indignation and muttered dissent.
“All rise for the honourable judge Cubert McLesterson!” the court officer yelled as the many journalists shuffled into position. An unnatural hush fell over the court-room as the judge transported an almost-ungodly amount of black fabric to his seat on his equally preposterous frame.
“Be seated.” He motioned for the for the many performers assembled on his stage to sit with a massive flabby paw. “This court is now in session.” He punctuated the line with an entirely unnecessary bang of the gavel. He'd worked hard to get where he was and he'd be damned if he wasn't going to use every available opportunity to play with the tiny hammer.
“Counsel,” he nodded in a dignified fashion towards one of the two suits representing the plaintiff. “You may begin.”
“Thank you, your honour,” The Suit replied with a slick half-nod. “We call the defendant Mr McQuinn to the stand!” There was a slight murmur from the crowd followed by an entirely needless gavel-bang. As Mr McQuinn rose from behind the desk he was revealed to be a dishevelled-looking man, distinctly unsuited to being suited, and as such he looked decidedly scruffy. As he stepped from behind the desk he shot a nervous glance and smile towards the voluminous pregnant woman seated in the front row and slouched unwillingly towards the stand. A court bailiff solidified out of the ether with a selection of books for Mr McQuinn to swear in upon. There was a delay as he perused the stack before finally opting for a copy of Watchmen. After muttering a few binding words of dubious provenance, McQuinn returned the book and took his seat.
“Just confirm you are Mr Alonso McQuinn of 72 'I Can't Believe They Named This Awful Street That' Gardens.” McQuinn replied with a curt nod and a brief affirmation. “Can you also confirm for the court that you are currently employed at Gentech Industries?” Again a curt nod and a mumble. “And what is your roll at Gentech?”
“I'm a lead coder,” Mr McQuinn replied.
“Could you please identify this document for the court Mr McQuinn?” The Suit flourished a document skyward before thrusting it aggressively towards the stand.
“Yes. That is my code,” McQuinn replied with another nervous smile.
“Your code Mr McQuinn?” The Suit asked accusingly whilst his partner slithered from behind the desk to distribute copies to the jury. “Can you confirm that this code has been used as the basis for nearly every project you've designed whilst at Gentech?” The Suit grasped a stack of papers from the desk and slammed them down on the stand with a force that the judge, as an experienced hammer-man, couldn't help but respect.
“Well... yes everyone does.” McQuinn adjusted his glasses nervously. “But it's my code I've had forever, it substantially pre-dates my employment at Gentech...”
“Mr McQuinn, at some point or another every single piece of this original code appears in products you developed for Gentech.” The Suit purposefully strutted back to his desk seized another document, again he flourished it needlessly towards the ceiling before holding it an inch from McQuinn's face. “Do you recognise this document?” McQuinn adjusted his glasses took the paper from The Suit's claw, moved it further away from his face and pushed the lawyers still-stationary hand to one side to allow him to see the document.
“This is the employee agreement that I signed when I first started working for Gentech,” McQuinn offered.
“And could you, please read the hi-lighted section... Mr... McQuinn?” The Suit asked, flashing a predators grin.
“I, the under-signed, here after referred to as Minion, agree that any and all works produced pertaining to the realm of genetic construction and modification whilst employed at Gentech, and any derivative works, are the sole copyright of Gentech and it's parent companies; Morally Questionable Developments, Shady Weapons Development and Large & Soulless Multinational...” At this point McQuinn stopped and looked up from the paper. “Look, this document is designed to stop me from packing up my office, jumping ship and giving our competitors all of our information, not...”
“The court will be the judge of what this document is meant for, Mr McQuinn,” The Suit snapped, snatching the document away and placing it in front of the judge whilst the second suit once again slunk out to supply copies of the document to the jurors.
“But it's my DNA! It's really hard to write an entire genome, so we cheat by using our own and tweaking and adapting it to get the desired results. Gentech can't own my DNA!” McQuinn exclaimed rising to his feet. He'd gotten no further than halfway out of his chair when he was deflated by the judge's most emphatic gavel-bang of the day.
“You will compose yourself Mr McQuinn, or you'll find yourself in contempt of court,” he said with a satisfied smile that dared McQuinn to challenge him.
“I'm sorry your honour but it's not fair,” McQuinn moaned as he dropped back into his seat.
“This is about protecting peoples livelihoods Mr McQuinn. You can't just choose to use someone else's copyrighted materials for your own profit.” The Suit smirked with all the compassion of a shark.
“Mr McQuinn, could you please identify for the court, Mrs McQuinn.” McQuinn pointed with a trembling hand towards his pregnant wife, sitting in the front row of the court-room. “Let the record show that Mr McQuinn indicated the pregnant lady in the front row. Is she pregnant with your child Mr McQuinn?”
“What the hell are you trying to imply?” Mr McQuinn asked angrily. “Of course it's my child.”
“From the defendants own mouth!” The Suit pointed at the jury, taking two strident paces to stand before them. “Half of that child's DNA is the copyrighted material of Gentech Industries. By any definition that is a derivative work. Yet Mr McQuinn embarked upon its development without even attempting to gain the permission of his employers.” Here the lawyer reached to his table and held up another document. “This is an e-mail Mr McQuinn sent to a colleague using his employers e-mail system. It includes this line: 'Rosemary and I are trying for a baby.' This child was not an accident, but a deliberate attempt to use copyrighted material for your own gain Mr McQuinn.”
“I'm not going to lie to you. We're getting battered in there,” the cut-price lawyer, the best the McQuinns could afford, said, exuding an air of nervousness that was only matched by his odour.
“We've not done anything wrong,” Rosemary replied angrily striking fear into both the lawyer and her husband as only a pregnant woman can.
“Mrs McQuinn. This isn't about right or wrong it's about the law,” Cut-price replied, but he at least had the decency to look sheepish as he said it.
“He's right.” The three of them looked down the corridor to see The Suit standing a small way down the corridor. “I'm betting that settlement we offered you looks pretty good right now. And before you ask; No. My clients have made it very clear to me that getting a court decision on this is much more important than getting the money out of you two.” With that he turned on his heel and walked away with a whistle on his lips and a song in his - for want of a better word - heart.
“I wish I was heartless bastard like that,” Cut-price muttered whilst staring wistfully at his opponent's retreating back, showing once and for all where the true priorities of the legal profession lie. “We've got to focus on damage control here. We need to go in and argue not on the whether or not you are in breach of copyright, but on the profitability of your child.”
“Mr McQuinn, both Gentech and yourself have had a look at your son's DNA. Is there anything in there that indicates that the child will have any aptitude for high income professions? Medicine, Sport, Financial Speculation?”
“No. There's nothing in his DNA to indicate any of that,” Mr McQuinn replied to the court-room at large.
“So there's no reason to assume that this child will be anything other than a massive financial drain,” Cut-price asked with a smile.
“Well, I wouldn't say that, but from a purely financial stand-point, no. I don't think there is any reason to assume that he'll wind a up being a millionaire,” McQuinn replied.
“Objection, your honour,” The Suit cried from behind his desk. “Mr McQuinn has no way of predicting the future. Just because his child is genetically unremarkable it doesn't mean it won't go on to become a profitable individual... have you seen Jersey Shore? Those people have no talent and are still incredibly wealthy. This child has already become the centre of a media circus. The very idea that someone isn't already getting ready to approach the McQuinn's about a potential reality TV show is, frankly, ludicrous.” The Suit dropped back into his seat.
“Sustained, Mr McQuinn has no way of knowing how much this child will ultimately be worth and every incentive to misjudge the possibilities,” the judge replied, several of his chins wobbling as he did so. McQuinn and his lawyer exchanged forlorn glances.
“No further questions your honour.”
There was a palpable sense of tension in the court-room as the jury returned from their deliberations. It seemed as if every piranha in the state had swarmed on the case and were waiting to pick clean the corpse of the McQuinn's lives, they weren't alone though. Several Guy Fawkes were scattered conspicuously among the watchers, as well as multiple representatives of the various other online communities that had taken an interest in this case. Of all these various groups that had descended on the scene that day, the only ones not resting on the edge of their seat were the McQuinns and their legal team, who were instead drowning in a sea of perpetual gloom. A door to one side of the court swung open and the jury traipsed back from whatever hinterland they were confined to for the duration of their musings. There was a slight susurration from among the watchers. The judge responded to this with an unreasonably fast gavel slam that might have been entirely unrelated to the murmur. There were a few moments of shuffling from among the jurors themselves before all but the foreman had taken a seat. He passed a piece of paper to a bailiff who nobly fought the overwhelming urge to take a peek before passing it to the judge, who took a glance and passed it back.
“Have you reached a verdict with which you are all happy?” The Judge asked.
“Juror Six found out her cat had passed away last night so she's not that happy at the moment but we have all agreed to find in favour of the plaintiff,” he said before dropping quickly back to his seat.
The was an audible groan from Rosemary McQuinn. The judge managed to surprise everyone by exercising enough self-control to keep his gavel had still for a moment. The rest of the court seized this moment to start chattering like a gaggle of school girls, resulting in the judge banging his hammer not once but twice. He waited for silence before he spoke.
“Mr McQuinn, under normal circumstances I'd award Gentech the royalties you'd earned from this endeavour, unfortunately that doesn't seem to be applicable in this case. As such I'm awarding Gentech Industries 75% of the earnings of your child. To be garnished from it's earnings directly to Gentech. I'd suggest you get a reality-show locked in as quickly as possible Mr McQuinn. Court Adjourned.” There was another hearty slap of wood on wood and the court began to disperse.
“We are pleased with the verdict, obviously,” The Suit stated smilingly out on the steps of the court-house. “It is our hope that this ruling has now provided a clarification of the laws pertaining to DNA copyright and will allow companies such as Gentech to avoid the unnecessary expense of court cases such as this in future. Now there's a precedent, it will be much easier to explore out of court settlement options.” There was a question from one of the reporters that was hard to hear over the clamour. “Well, the civil liberties discussion is really something for our political leaders to talk about but they've sided with rights-holders nearly every time the debate has happened in the past.” He gave a smirk and sauntered off to his car as the media circus moved on to engulf the unfortunate couple behind him.
In Session by Daniel Edwards is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.eddieshtb.blogspot.com.