21 Apr 2003 ajt   » (Master)

High quality neo-journalism from slashdot

First, there's today's story, Debian GNU/Linux to Declare GNU GFDL non-Free? It's great the way news sites leap towards potential controversy, and aim to publish unrehearsed and poorly thought out comments, as though off the cuff responses are more likely to reflect some "inner truth", than properly thought out and reviewed statements.

Second, there's the story from 2001 about the Canadian farmer growing a Canola crop, who was sued for patent violation. The defendent claims he's a small time farmer, and sets the scene as another case of the multinational screwing the little guy. The judge hears evidence, and rules that the plaintiffs have every right to compensation for misappropriation of their patented technology. It's reported on slashdot with the usual anti-patent bias, that's blithely copied by a credulous submitter from a credulous broadcaster: "Percy Schmeiser claims that the seeds blew onto his farm from passing seed trucks and from neighboring farms. The court held that regardless of whether [...] he merely found them growing on his farm, it was his responsibility to destroy the seeds and seedlings or pay royalties." This version of events is repeated, indirectly, when slashdot later links to the winners of the WIPout contest for essays against intellectual property, via the Register. One of the winners is Percy Schmeiser himself, retelling his defense in a forum where there's no chance of a judge ruling against him.

The only problem with this is that Mr Schmeiser's claims were conclusively disproven at trial: his crop was not mildly contaminated, 95-98% of it was. Likewise, the proffered explanation was nonsense -- the contamination was not limited to the roadsides, and licensees of the genetically-modified seed were too distant to have caused significant wind-borne contamination. Further, in spite of the hand-wringing summaries, the judge did not require monitoring and burning of any seed that might appear, merely that seeds acquired accidently not be knowingly planted, thus making deliberate use of the patented genes. Read about it in an article on reason.com, or check the facts in the court's decision.

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