Legalities

Over at Seed Media’s Scienceblogs, PZ Myers of the immensely popular Pharyngula weblog has been named as a defendant with Seed Media in a libel lawsuit brought by Stuart Pivar, a New York art collector and author. Pivar wrote books stating his ideas about biological development; Myers, a developmental biologist, wrote scathing reviews of those books. From what little I know about developmental biology and premised on the descriptions in PZ’s reviews, I’m with PZ on the baselessness of the arguments made by Pivar concerning biological development. Pivar is claiming $15 million in damages. Jim Lippard has more information, including links to various of the documents and further commentary on other weblogs.

It needs to be said that in science, scientists disagree vociferously over the status of ideas, and may say some pretty cold stuff about what other people offer as hypotheses and theories. All of this is to be expected. Unfortunately, some people simply do not distinguish between an attack upon an idea that they have had and their own person. Being wrong is not a mortal or even venial sin in science. Failing to take notice of the available evidence, though, may legitimately lead people to conclude that there is something at fault with the person and not just that they happen to be wrong about something.

Now for something completely different. It seems that I’m getting involved in some legal disputation myself. A friend of Diane and mine called this evening to say that she was looking up curly-coated retriever merchandise on Cafepress, and was surprised to find that her own dog was featured on a large number of items on the site. She recognized the image as one that I had taken back in 2000 at a flyball tournament, and that she had a version up on her own curly-coat retriever web page by my permission:

kenzie 2000 909 1 orig ws

OK, now have a look at the Cafepress site of “Gifts of Love”, and their store section featuring a silhouette of a curly-coated retriever.

Looks familiar, doesn’t it?

I pulled in both the original and a silhouette image into CorelDraw, applied transparency to the silhouette, and used the image resize feature to overlay the two. They match up exactly on head shape, ear position, body shape, image angle, and front leg position. The silhouette fills in the left leg where it was obscured by the jump, and adds a visible tail. I’ve sent off a complaint to the Cafepress intellectual property rights people, so we’ll see how this goes down.

Update 2007/08/23: CafePress has removed most of the infringing images from their site. I’ve pointed out a couple of stragglers, and requested a report of how much the infringing party made off of the derivative image.

Further update: Cafepress has given me the address of the infringing party; he’s in Selangor. They also noted that they don’t reveal financial data without a warrant or subpoena.

Update 2007/08/28: Stuart Pivar has dropped his defamation case against PZ Myers and Seed Media Group. However, Pivar’s lawyer is making noises about suing Peter Irons, a prominent retired law professor who corresponded with Pivar urging him to withdraw the case.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

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