Sep 24, 2006

Should People "Own" Their NXT Creations?

A lot of folks share their NXT builds and programs with others. But what about those who sell their NXT creations via books and file downloads (like rifagent.com)? Is it OK to create an NXT project and then sell the information?

Personally, I hope there's room for BOTH free and proprietary creations.

What does everybody else think?

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

If a creation is shown on web, the author can share instructions and plans or not.
I don't like the idea to sell instructions, since if when I joined the community (years ago), all veterans would only show their projects for money, I would not learn anything!
Publishing books is a whole other story...
did you see?
Rifagent is closing down!

Danny B.

jonathan said...

If someone makes something (and therefore puts time and energy into it), they obviously have the right to sell it, give it away, or do absolutley nothing with it! It's theirs to do whatever they want with it!

It is of course nice to be able to get something for free instead of buying it, but it certainly isn't mandatory.

If people don't want to pay money for something, they don't have to get it. But, as was the case with RIF, they certainly should not send them trash e-mails.

-Jonathan

Jim Kelly said...

I don't mind sharing my building instructions... but I also wouldn't mind spending $2 or $3 for instructions on level with something like the JohnNXT5 or other robot that has had a lot of thought and planning put into it...

I don't think anyone can actually "own" a NXT creation... I'm not a patent lawyer, but I imagine that if you own the components (kit), then you probably are entitled to duplicate anything that can be made with those components.

Intellectual capital is a funny thing - someone could TRY and copyright or register a robot made with NXT pieces, but my gut is telling me that it wouldn't hold up in a court of law.

The RIF wasn't selling building instructions... they were selling a story... and selling participation in that story with the agent# and dossier and blog and the other stuff... the robot instructions were just a bonus.

As for books, I write for a living. I couldn't write a book (for NXT or any other subject) if I didn't get paid for it because that's how I earn a living. If the boy or girl who wrote to the RIF about giving away the file(s) to friends buys my book and makes photocopies of it, that will reduce the revenue I make on my book and probably keep me from writing another one. That's how the publishing world works - book sells well, write another one. Book sells poorly, leave that subject and write on something else.

I'll continue to provide free building instructions on the blog - my own or anyone else who cares to share.

I've got one in the works right now that I'm proud of, but I'm waiting for the NXTLOG feature to kick off so I can use this new tool to document the construction, programming, and overall design process as I go...

Jim

peter hoh said...

This comes up a lot when I'm teaching 8-10 year olds. I don't like hearing "He stole my idea," or "He's copying me," so I tell the kids that copying is okay -- and improving on someone else's idea is even better.

I'm not an intellectual property rights lawyer either, but it seems to me that NXT building directions and programs would be a lot like chess moves. You can't own a chess move, but you can sell a book describing it. You can share your book with a friend, but you shouldn't make a photocopy of it.

I think it would be nice to see some sort of attribution for particularly clever design solutions and/or robots. Seems to me that posting (and thereby sharing) something would be the best way to establish that you were the one who came up with the idea.

jonathan said...

Jim and Peter,

Right, it's not like someone can copyright their design, and keep anyone from building it, but they're certainly entitled to only give people instructions to their creation for a price - nothing wrong with that.

-Jonathan

Anonymous said...

I want to start sharing my robots so I'll let you know when I'm ready.

I have a question also. I don't understand the bluetooth send and receive message blocks. I only have one NXT so I haven't been able to use it. Can some of you write something about the send message block and the receive message block and how it works? Thank you.

Kevin in Austin

Brian Davis said...

Actually, you bring up a good question in terms of intellectual property. You can establish rights to program code... or even "discovered" genetic codes... and certainly to novel mechanical implementations. But this is a two-edged sword: does this mean I'm violating property rights every time I use a proprietary mechanism (even if I don't know it)? Quite possibly, especially if I intend to make a profit off it. Hmm...

Personally, I have a tendancy to share just about everything I create (in LEGO or otherwise); that's how I learned in the AFoL community (& I've not come CLOSE to balancing the ledger on that score, one of the resons I've worked on documenting things like improved IR ranging with the RCX, or puzzling through NXT-G). BUT - that is my personal choice, on a case-by-case basis. Had I put the effort into a book, I would hope others (even others who feel the work is overpriced) would respect that. I also think that for "bragging rights", if that is the coin of the realm you are interested in, publishing and announcing your works as soon as possible is the best way of doing this.

What happened to RIF is sad, in my opinion. Due to the reactions of the community, the community has reduced the amount of material availible to it. Sad, and self-defeating, in my opinion.

--
Brian Davis

FLL coach said...

I followed the RIF site for several weeks while The NXT STEP blog plugged it. I was intrigued by the mystery of it and liked the idea behind it. That it shut down is news to me. I'm not sure how long it lasted beyond the kick-off date. I have a few reactions to this news.

First, I believe that charging a modest fee ($6 is modest) for something you've spent a fair amount of time on (20 hours in the case of the rifagent.com folks) is perfectly reasonable. But as a consumer I want some kind of understanding, implicit or otherwise, of what I'm embarking on. In the case of rifagent.com, the reason I didn't purchase the first mission was because I wasn't able to get a clear enough understanding of what I would be embarking on. How many missions and how often would I have to spend $6? And then there is the FLL thing. I'm an FLL coach and we just started the Nano Quest season - so that September 15th date was poorly chosen for my market segment (and we keep growing year-to-year). But I digress.

Do I think the rifagent.com guys should have shut down? No. Would I have done the same, given negative feedback and an outright admission of piracy? No. I'm a software developer so I understand the value of intellectual property. I would have given it at least a few more missions. Pardon the harsh words, but the RIF shut down explanation sounds like major quitting to me. I wouldn't stand for that from my kids. I don't care how scathing the feedback was - this is the internet for crying out loud. How many completely irrational posts and emails have you encountered in your lifetime of browsing? (I hope you don't consider this one of those :-) I lost count about 15 years ago.

My advice to the rifagent guys: don your asbestos robes, grab some patience and get back out there, dammit. Release a few more missions to show the community what you've got. I'm sure there are plenty of people who are holding out to make sure you won't do exactly what you just did.

And finally, to paraphrase a popular movie of not too long ago:

"Are you crying? There's no crying in LEGOs!!!"

cool.matthew said...

Well if you were in some odd country and you were a NXT fanatic how would you buy something if the shop didn't allow yyour currency?

Rick Rhodes said...

According to the RIF site, the major reasons they shut down were:

1) They couldn't "protect" their creations from illicit file-sharing.

2) They couldn't recoup their costs. (They only sold 15 files from their first creation).

Poe and David (if you're out there):

Is there another way you could share your creations without losing money and without falling victim to piracy?

Would it work to publish your creations in a simple binder (like the ones they produce at copy shops)?

I'd pay considerably more than $6 for a binder like that, especially if it included all of your (proposed) six bots.

You could take orders for the binder, and only print as many as you receive orders for.

Anonymous said...

The rif thing accepted paypal payments. This means that currency converting was done automatically.

Anonymous said...

My son wanted to buy the first mission, and was saving his money and asking me to set up the paypal payment system for him. It is a busy time for him with starting FLL, so there was no rush for him to buy the mission. I was also encouraging him to wait to hear some feedback as to whether others felt the $6 price tag was reasonable after they saw the mission, and to make sure it wasn't really a scam.

The thing is, it's a free marketplace. If you choose to create something and charge for it, you can't force people to buy it, and you can't force people to be happy about the price of it.

I think the Rifagent guys should have made it clearer from the beginning that they were going to be selling something, and I think they should have given it a lot longer before they decided to quit. They took several weeks to build up the hype, but only a few days to disappoint all the kids that were thinking about buying this mission but who can't now.

Will George said...

Whatever you can get away with that is legal.. Does anybody read much less understand the Legal stuff that you have to click on? I guess I have sold my soul at least 1000 times doing it!

Anonymous has some good points BUT if you post your code and whatever I thinks I can use it if I want.

Not that I would.. heheheheh...
I hope you get the drift..

Will George said...

At 10:02 AM, Anonymous said...

GOOD POST! I was a kid once LONG ago.. Not $6.00 but .25 cents took me a month to get for this stupid thing that came in the mail a month later.. LOL.. I just had to rant.

Guy Ziv said...

I'm very sad that RIF was closed. At first, when the site came up in our blog and elsewhere, I’ve been convinced from the overall quality of the site and the ongoing puzzles that this is a PR operation of LEGO. The dates seemed to match with the release of NXT in Europe, and it all smelled like LEGO is building up the tension to release some kids oriented material for NXT. This is not at all unlikely – as you can see a lot of “stories” in e.g. the LEGO Bionicle and other brands. I was surprised to find out it was a private endeavor of two talented and apparently highly creative parents (I must say I haven’t seen the actual files though…) who devoted a lot of time to make something nice for kids using NXT. I must admit that none of the NXT blogs is kid oriented, with posts often describing stuff that only AFoL appreciate and understand. The NXTasy forums has some younger participants (but the majority of users are 25-40) but still… I liked very much the RIF idea (even though I don’t really know how much of a “mission” was in their mission files, but that is only a point for Poe and David’s creativity) and would have payed the $6 if I had kids of the right age (she’s 10 months old…). I think $6 is not too much, and correct me if I’m wrong – if RIF was a LEGO company operation, people would have paid that sum without nasty email complaints to LEGO. I do think RIF guys did some mistakes along the way – I would’ve given free low-res building instructions and maybe a piece of the mission for free to get kids “hooked”, notifying in advance that the rest is propriety and costs money, and sell not only the files but also email support (Ask Mr. Q?) to registered agents only. Making building instructions and documentation is hard, very time-consuming and not too much fun (I know, tried it). It is much more enjoyable to invent new ideas for your son’s own satisfaction. We should appreciate the incentive that drove Poe and David to share (and sell) their ideas. I hope RIF guys listen and try again…

Larry Langellier said...

I hope Poe and David will rethink their decision. I was one of the 15 who purchased their first mission. I was saddened when I read on this forum that they have decided to discontinue their efforts.

Having said that, I have to admit I haven't had a chance to check the first mission out very extensively yet. What I saw looked cool. I intended to purchase all of the missions they produced this fall and then look at them after the FLL season was over (I am coaching five teams right now). I am always on the lookout for cool Lego educational ideas - and this looked like a very cool one.

My primary interest was to investigate whether these missions could be used as the basis for an after-school or summer program that would run outside of the FLL season. RIF's premise seemed VERY promising for this type of application. If I had opted to go in this direction, I would have purchased a copy of the mission for every student who signed up for the program. I typically have 15-25 students per session. (Poe and David are you reading this - I could have helped you attain half your goal each session that I ran...)

Personally I'm surprised to see any question about whether RIF should charge for what they are/were doing. Lego (and others) charge for curriculum, what's wrong with these guys looking for some minimal compensation to cover the cost of their efforts?

Now, I would plead with Poe and David to continue with the next two missions they had planned and to give their idea some time to take off!

byronczimmer said...

I've been out a long while, but lurking when I'm able...

I was following the RIFagent site with some interest, as it was seemingly modeled after other 'internet publicity stunts' that have seemed interesting in the past, but that I've totally missed the boat on. I, too, was wondering if it was a stunt from a larger source, such as LEGO, ToysRUs or something similar.

The air of secrecy did cause some concern on my part, and life events prevented me from participating. Without knowing the entity behind the hype, rest assured that had I participated that I would have used a 'freemail' email such as Yahoo or GoogleMail and would not have linked it to any sort of monetary account until I was sure of the intent of the creators. I'm not saying that RIFagent was intended to be a scam -- just that a lot of alarm bells were going off.

The efforts of RIFagent were admirable, but seemed to fall into the 'profit' trap. What started as a project to make their kids lives more interesting that could then be shared with other like minded individuals turned into a profit making venture.

People are willing to pay for items from known vendors on the internet, when they know what they are getting. My experience is that people are not willing to part with money or personal information (email addresses, telephone numbers) to unknown vendors or for unknown products.

If the goal was to make money, the model I've seen that works better is the 'first one's free' model. Show folks what you've got and just 'give away' chapter 1 or module 1 or whatever. Then, when part 2 comes out, indicate 'if you enjoyed part 1, please consider donating this modest amount', and as a thank you, we'll send you part 2. It's kind of a 'payment in remiss' plan, and it's excercised by many magazine companies in order to bring in new subscribers.

I respect people's right to charge for their intellectual property, after all they created something they can do with it as they please, be it keep it hidden, sell it or give it away. I also respect the consumer's right, especially in this day and age, to make informed purchases with their hard earned money.

I hope RIFagent reconsiders shutting their doors after such a brief effort, perhaps with a different model or long term view. What I saw was interesting.

k said...

There are two levels of ownership in my mind.

If you post information or a picture of a creation, you are putting it in the public domain. The general idea of it, at least.

If you publish plans for something, that's clearly protected copyrighted information, unless you release it. If you copied and sold that, or incorporated into a book without permission, that would be wrong, and I think illegal (or at least actionable).

Anonymous said...

i make alot of things i love, but nothing anyone else would like to make themsaelves, but i know if i knew how to make the instruction like in a book, and people liked it, i would give it free, cause then you get more gratitude and more popularity, literally, people treat you better

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