Throughout this course there's been a great deal of discussion regarding originality and patents and their relation to technology. However, patent infringement lawsuits and the answer to the pursuit of the fine line between "remix" and "copy" are not limited solely to technology. In some cases, the debate over intellectual property has even extended to living things.
Biologically-engineered crops have many benefits, and are praised as the solution to potential famines just as much as they are denounced as "frankenfoods." However, they are also the source of an ongoing debate regarding just how far the phrase "intellectual property" extends.
Monsanto is the poster-child of copyright infringement lawsuits for its ruthless suing of farmers who have genetically modified crops, and this January, farmers lost in court fighting against Monsanto, whose "claims on genetically-engineered seed patents and the company's ability to sue farmers whose fields were inadvertantly contaminated with Monsanto materials" were upheld. When the plaintiffs asked Monsanto to pledge not to sue farms with traces (i.e. containing <1% of Monsanto seeds), Monsanto responded with, "a blanket covenant... would enable virtually anyone to commit intentional infringement."
Intuitively, this kind of aggressive legal action seems wrong. How can a corporation own not just a plant, but it's very DNA? According to the law, however, Monsanto, who has filed 140 lawsuits against farmers and settled around 700 other lawsuits, is in the right. Unfortunately, that means farmers will be forced to continue worrying. Should an errant wind blow Monsanto seed into their field, Monsanto has a court-upheld ability to sue the farmer. That's not just a potential bump in the road, it can end people's livelihood.
As Dave Murphy, founder of Food Democracy Now!, states, "This is an outrage....and will not stand." If we are going to solve the plethora of problems we face, we are going to need to work together, because the seeds of change do not bloom from lawsuits, but from cooperation and compromise.