In today’s policy discussions around intellectual property, the term ‘rightsholder’ is often misconstrued as someone who supports maximalist protection and enforcement of intellectual property, instead of someone who simply holds the rights to intellectual property. This false assumption can at times create a kind of myopia, in which the breadth and variety of actors, interests, and viewpoints in the internet ecosystem – all of whom are rightsholders to one degree or another – are lost.
This is not merely a process issue – it undermines constructive dialogues aimed at achieving a balanced policy. Copyright law is, ostensibly, designed and intended to advance a range of beneficial goals, such as promoting the arts, growing the economy, and making progress in scientific endeavour. But maximalist protection policies and draconian enforcement benefit the few and not the many, hindering rather than helping these policy goals. For copyright law to enhance creativity, innovation, and competition, and ultimately to benefit the public good, we must all recognise the plurality and complexity of actors in the digital ecosystem, who can be at once IP rightsholders, creators, and consumers.
Mozilla is an example of this complex rightsholder stakeholder. As a technology company, a non-profit foundation, and a global community, we hold copyrights, trademarks, and other exclusive rights. Yet, in the pursuit of our mission, we’ve also championed open licenses to share our works with others. Through this, we see an opportunity to harness intellectual property to promote openness, competition and participation in the internet economy.
We are a rightsholder, but we are far from maximalists. Much of the code produced by Mozilla, including much of Firefox, is licensed using a free and open source software licence called the Mozilla Public License (MPL), developed and maintained by the Mozilla Foundation. We developed the MPL to strike a real balance between the interests of proprietary and open source developers in an effort to promote innovation, creativity and economic growth to benefit the public good.
Similarly, in recognition of the challenges the patent system raises for open source software development, we’re pioneering an innovative approach to patent licensing with our Mozilla Open Software Patent License (MOSPL). Today, the patent system can be used to hinder innovation by other creators. Our solution is to create patents that expressly permit everyone to innovate openly. You can read more in our terms of license here.
While these are just two initiatives from Mozilla amongst many more in the open source community, we need more innovative ideas in order to fully harness intellectual property rights to foster innovation, creation and competition. And we need policy makers to be open (pun intended) to such ideas, and to understand the place they have in the intellectual property ecosystem.
More than just our world of software development, the concept of a rightsholder is in reality broad and nuanced. In practice, we’re all rightsholders – we become rightsholders by creating for ourselves, whether we’re writing, singing, playing, drawing, or coding. And as rightsholders, we all have a stake in this rich and diverse ecosystem, and in the future of intellectual property law and policy that shapes it.
Here is some of our most recent work on IP reform:
- Submission to the European Commission public consultation on the Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive (IPRED) & Letter on IPR Enforcement.
- US Copyright Office filing on Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) & blog post.
- US Copyright Office filing on Section 1201 on the circumvention of technical measures & blog post.