Abbie Smith at ERV has the story on William A. Dembski’s unauthorized use of an animation made by Harvard University and XVIVO.
Harvard/XVIVO have a cool animation they call, “The Inner Life of a Cell”. There are a couple of versions that have made it to YouTube or Google Video. Since it all looks very complex and mechanical, in addition to being visually stunning, “intelligent design” creationism (IDC) advocates also think it is cool. Or, at least, would be if the annoying science-talk narration that is part of the original went away and was replaced with somebody intoning about how complex and mechanical and designed it all is.
Enter William A. Dembski, philosopher and mathematician to the IDC movement. Dembski gives lectures, and expects honoraria for these lectures. He gave one at Oklahoma University a couple of months ago. Within his lecture, he embedded a video, an animation. Smith recognized the animation as the Harvard/XVIVO production, “The Inner Life of a Cell”. Smith contacted Harvard/XVIVO about this, and they issued a cease-and-desist letter.
Now, the version Dembski used in his September OU lecture was not identical to the Harvard/XVIVO production. It used video that did not include the opening title and credits. According to a post by Dembski, the musical score in his version is the original used by Harvard/XVIVO. However, an amateur dubbed-in voice on the audio provides an IDC-flavored narration to the video. Dembski claims that the closing credits remain intact, including a Harvard/XVIVO copyright notice. Dembski’s embedded version runs on a PowerPoint slide with the title, “The Cell as an Automated City”.
There are several odd elements to this story. Dembski claims to have tried to order a DVD of the video from Harvard/XVIVO, and was unsuccessful.
The video was so good that I wanted to use it in some of my public presentations, but when I tried to purchase a DVD of it (I sent several emails to relevant parties), I was informed it wasn’t ready.
I don’t know what relevance owning a DVD of the video has for wanting to use it in presentations. If one is making a presentation for profit, which a paid lecture may arguably be, simply owning a DVD does not confer the right to utilize the contents for commercial ventures. Those rights usually must be negotiated specifically and separately, and usually involve the payment of royalties on some scale involving the number of attendees.
Dembski claims to have gotten his version of the video, as it was presented to the OU audience, from “the Internet”. Dembski claims to have selected that version for its IDC-friendliness. Unfortunately, Dembski already admitted knowing what the original video looked like, so this selection process means that he knowingly used a derivative work. Further, Dembski does not even have the thin excuse of crediting the author of the derivative work. If Dembski is claiming that he should be held harmless as someone who used a derivative work in the belief that (1) the author of the changes had obtained permission to do so and (2) that Dembski had the permission of the author of the changes to use the derivative work, uncredited, in a commercial setting, he certainly has not done a good job of supporting that.
Dembski’s post about his use of the Harvard/XVIVO material falls into the category of “notpology” that he has used on past occasions. He says he will stop infringing on the Harvard/XVIVO copyright; he never says that he was wrong to infringe upon it in the first place. This makes good legal sense, but bad moral philosophy. To use a phrase from the time period that IDC advocates prefer that we take our understanding of science from, this whole incident merits a shout from the crowd of, “Oh, basely done!”
Update: John West of the DI has had some thoughts on the matter. I decided to make another post with my response.
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