Can technology protect our intellectual property rights?

When I direct my mind towards thinking about intellectual property rights, I don’t necessarily see the topic in a context of my local or national community. My initial instinct asked me to explore the subject as a privilege that should be contemplated in a broader context. Not as something that should involve the country borders. I see the right to ownership of the intellectual property almost as a substance, as something that should be deeply rooted in everyone’s moral code, naturally and automatically.

This feeling is perhaps not something only I share. Most of us will be familiar with “Thou shalt not steal”, one of the Ten Commandments, that “has come to commonly and colloquially be understood or interpreted to prohibit the unauthorized taking of private property” (Exodus, 2016).

As we just discovered, one of the most well-known commandments, not only speaks about the simple act of stealing, but it places taking of private property on the same level with theft.

But, as we all know, the intellectual right is not a simple topic, nor our collective rooting can uphold it in a moral imperative such as one of the Ten Commandments. The interpretation of the intellectual property right varies from country to country, and it isn’t such straightforward picture as one may naturally conclude.

Luckily, it’s a right that in one way or another is protected by the law and justice system in most of the developed world. So how is it interpreted in Canada where I live and work?

“Under Canadian copyright law, an eligible work must be original to its author, not copied from another work, and requires more than trivial or mechanical intellectual effort. In the case of CCH Canadian Ltd. v. Law Society of Upper Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada … ultimately concluded that the proper approach in Canadian law fell between the approach of labour and diligence, and that of creativity.” (Threshold of originality, 2016)

The meaning is clear. Under Canadian law, for anyone’s work to be considered unique, it must demonstrate creativity.

My interpretation of the law is as follows: “Anyone who wants the results of their mental or physical activities to be protected by Canadian law must show imagination in their work. Or in other words, to be inventive, exceptional, distinctive and individually noteworthy.”. Only then, I believe someone can claim an authorship and automatically gain copyright rights to his or her work.

Unfortunately, the topic of intellectual property is not as simple as it may sound. It’s tied to various other subjects, such as privacy and even security. Let’s explore this a little.

Let’s assume the following hypothetical scenario, in which the government deliberately hides documents about their activities from a public view, in such a way, that general public will not be aware of their existence. You may say: “If my government (which I elected) decided that the documents are government’s intellectual property, should be confidential and should not be publicly accessible, who am I to say otherwise.”

But would we feel the same if the documents could implicate the government in wrong doing? How about if the documents would prove that government is intentionally, deliberately and consistently breaking the law? Would leaking such documents (however protected by the law) serve the common good? Would anyone have the right to break the law?

These are the cases, where the line separating intellectual property, privacy and security may become blurry.

Edward Joseph Snowden, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) who in 2013 leaked top secret information about NSA surveillance activities. Mr. Snowden, same as I do today “was studying online for a Masters degree in Computer Science through the University of Liverpool” (Sam McDonnell, 2013), said something very interesting. And it resonates with me as I am trying to reflect on ideas of intellectual property. He had collaborated with iconic French EDM producer Jean-Michel Jarre on a techno song about privacy. I am not a fan of techno genre, but the lyrics caught my attention.

There is a short passage in the song where E. Snowden in his own voice delivers the following speech: “…saying that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say. It’s a deeply anti-social principal because rights are not just individual – they’re collective. What may not have value to you today, may have value to an entire, you know, population, entire people, an entire way of life tomorrow. And if you don’t stand up for it, then who will?” (JeanMichelJarreVEVO, 2016)

As mentioned earlier, Snowden’s statement is referring to privacy and security. But personally I am aligned with Snowden’s statement also when it comes to intellectual property rights. In my view, we should always recognize individual property and recognize authors and their copyright and always stand up for them as a society.

In academic context, this can be done through referencing, as this is the only way to properly protect authorship and copyright, while collectively continue sharing our knowledge.

In the recent years, due to advances in computing, we have gained access to tools such as Plagiarism Detection software. These help us to easily and with a high degree of confidence identify duplicated information.

One of the tools I am personally using is called Turnitin, that is trusted by more than “15,000 Institutions and 30 Million Students” (Turnitin, 2015). It is an essential tool not only for students who want to maintain their academic integrity, but it can be used to validate the originality of any unique content. Software solutions of this nature help us to protect intellectual copyright rights and can be used in variety of industries outside of educational institutions.

I’d like to mention a bit of an anecdotal evidence, which in its own way outlines the advantages of using plagiarism detection software solutions.

On July, 2016, Melania Trump (the third wife of the presidential nominee Donald Trump) addressed the US nation on the night of the Republican National Convention. Her speech was immediately recognized by many of the viewers as ‘somewhat’ familiar. The reason for the overfamiliar feeling was due to following. The speech delivered by Mrs. Trump included many sections, that were word for word identical to that of speech delivered by Michelle Obama during Denver’s Democratic National Convention in 2008.

According to Turnitin, the “likelihood that a 16-word match is ‘just a coincidence’ is less than 1 in a trillion.” Melania Trump’s longest match? 23 words (Whiting, 2016).

While we may not be able to tell with certainty if the work of Michele Obama was plagiarised, we can definitely see the benefit of plagiarism software. The Trump campaign’s national co-chair, Sam Clovis, summarized the whole situation in his recent interview on MSNBC, where he concluded that that a bit of software such as Turnitin would have prevented the whole debacle (Keyishian, 2016).


In order to conclude this article and also to take the edge out of the seriousness of the topic, I want to conclude with a quote from Wilson Mizner, an American playwright and entrepreneur noted for many of his witty remarks:

“If you steal from one author it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many it’s research. “ (BrainyQuote, 2001).




Exodus, 22 (2016) ‘Thou shalt not steal’, in Wikipedia. Available at: (Accessed: 6 August 2016).

Threshold of originality (2016) in Wikipedia. Available at: (Accessed: 6 August 2016).

Sam McDonnell, N. (2013) Snowden studied with Liverpool university. Available at: (Accessed: 6 August 2016).

JeanMichelJarreVEVO (2016) Jean-Michel Jarre, Edward Snowden – exit. Available at: (Accessed: 6 August 2016).

Turnitin (2015) Turnitin. Available at: (Accessed: 6 August 2016).

Keyishian, A. (2016) Here’s the software that could have saved Melania Trump from her plagiarism debacle. Available at: (Accessed: 6 August 2016).

Whiting, A. (2016) There’s a ‘less than 1 in a Trillion’ chance that Melania Trump’s speech Wasn’t plagiarism. Available at: (Accessed: 6 August 2016).

BrainyQuote, 2016 (2001) Wilson Mizner quotes at BrainyQuote.Com. Available at: (Accessed: 6 August 2016).

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