Those three ancient words again

Continuing from the ‘irrelevant’ part of previous item, and tying it back to the more relevant discussion of the three traditional segments of Intellectual Property.

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Recently the ancient word usufruct popped into my ancient head for no reason. I realized that I didn’t know its exact meaning so looked it up and found two other ancient words.

Paraphrased from 1927 Yale Law Journal:

A life estate is a feudal conception; a usufruct is an analytical division of ownership created by the logical mind of the Romans. Thus, ownership has been separated into three rights: usus, fructus, abusus.

Usus is the right to use the thing.

Fructus is the right to gather its fruits and products which can be taken without endangering its substance.

Abusus is the right to dispose of the substance by partition, destruction, sale or gift.

Usufructus has been defined as a use of the thing which leaves the corpus intact, salva rerum substantia.

When you buy a copy of a book, you get usus and abusus of the physical paper, but not fructus of the underlying text. You can read it, toss it, make notes, cross out parts you don’t like, replace page 32 with a different page. These alterations are common and encouraged in books used for a serious purpose, like technical manuals.

BUT: You can’t COPY the book in original or altered form. You don’t have fructus.

Usufructus is the common but incomplete conception of copyright. We imagine that the copyright owner has usus and fructus but NOT abusus. The publisher defends the property and harvests its fruits, but without cutting down the plants or changing their nature.

In fact the owner of a copyright has all three privileges. Previously I was highlighting disposal. When you sell your rights to a publisher, the publisher can simply discard the work, and you can’t use it again. Nobody can use it.

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Amazingly, GoogleBooks hasn’t tried to remove notes left by real readers of real books. Librarians used to hate those notes, and IIRC some libraries inspected all returned books and charged you a fine for making notes.

The most important part of OWNING a physical book is abusus, your ability to make notes, tear out pages, or throw it away.

As in the FDIC document, note-makers are often proofreaders. Corrections and clarifications are especially important in books that get SERIOUS use, like equipment manuals or training guides.

A book that stays with you, on your active shelf or in your pocket or in your glove compartment, is a companion. Live companions negotiate all the time, constantly exchanging feedback to maintain the relationship as external factors change. A book companion can’t actively negotiate, but it should be able to reflect and assist your improved understanding.

Equipment manuals and catalogs were often built as looseleaf binders to encourage such modification, and the manufacturer frequently sent out new pages to accommodate revisions in the equipment or price changes. Almanacs and math assistants were often softbound books with leather covers, living comfortably in your pocket or knapsack or workbench. Some had laminated plastic pages to tolerate rain and dirt.

You can’t do any of these things with an e-book. You only have the privilege of usus, not abusus or fructus. E-books are a reversion to medieval libraries where each AHEM illuminated manuscript was chained or nailed to a podium so you could only read it in public view of the eagle-eyed librarian.

I was going to say the venerable beady-eyed librarian, but decided against it.

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