natanael-melchor-KRM15m2k6o8-unsplashNeed is a strong motivator, and urgent need of the kind felt in many walks of life during this pandemic will hopefully spur the kind of ingenuity that is demanded at the moment. Need during times of crisis is also not generally subject to the kinds of normal restrictions of law and regulation that might normally apply, either due to a suspension of or flaunting of the law, and so it serves as a window to examine the efficacy or need of those particular laws. Intellectual property might feel ephemeral in a time like this, but the story of how copyright and medical care intersect show how it underpins so much of the work we do and how its enforcement can do more damage than good.

From Reason comes a story about hospital technicians who have resorted to violating copyright in order to repair medical equipment during the pandemic, and as with most stories regarding medical supplies these days, it is as frustrating and dispiriting as anything else you might see in the news. The online medical technician community as depicted in the piece is in contravention of the law in sharing service manuals and other documentation among themselves, as most of that material is copyrighted by the manufacturer, and it would not come as much surprise that said manufacturers have demanded that material get taken down.

It should also come as little surprise that these medical technicians are similarly prohibited from repairing any of that same equipment under the same laws, and are instead required to have the manufacturers come out to service the equipment. The right-to-repair movement has been a thing for a while, but leave it to a crisis in which we can't go anywhere or be around others to really throw into stark relief the need for people and companies to be able to fix the things they pay for.

This latest example is another in a litany of stories demonstrating that copyright law, and intellectual property law in general, doesn't work, or perhaps works too well. The principle of protecting copyright is one generally agreed upon, but when you come across stories wherein healthcare professionals are having to break the law in order to perhaps save lives demonstrates that the law can at times go too far in protecting the rights of creators and manufacturers at the expense of the people who purchase and use those products, in addition to stifling innovation and fair use in better times. The eventual end of the pandemic will hopefully give way to a rethink of many elements of life and society, and we can hope that IP law falls under that purview.

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