Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

Get rid of copyright

"Imitation is the highest form of flattery."

"Bad artists copy. Good artists steal."

Invention is made by standing upon the shoulders of giants. The last couple hundred of years has seen immense benefit toward humanity: why? Science. Science has allowed everyone willing to understand the universe, and to manipulate it all the better. Science has for the longest time resisted the traditional forms of control, for what is true is true, and what is false is false, regardless of what politicians say. And when you know enough true statements, you can use that knowledge to create something amazing.

Just because I can follow a derivation of E = sqrt((m*c)^2 + (p*c)^2) does not mean I'm intelligent enough to have come up with it on my own. But if I used that equation as some part of proving my technology, you bet I owe Einstein a hefty portion of my work. No work is truly individual. When society prospers, individuals may prosper, but individuals cannot prosper when society is in shambles.

When I program, I'm relying on a huge number of tools and technologies that I didn't even make. This I think is why programmers are more inclined to be part of the anti-intellectual-property crowd: it's just insane to think that someone owns the ideas they are spouting. One, the very vast majority of all ideas are unoriginal, and two, the original ones would be thought of eventually by someone else. I'm sorry, but your book's plot isn't unique.

So let's bring up copyright. What is copyright for? It is to protect things from being copied. "What do you mean?", says the programmer, "I can use cp on any file I want!" The digital era is happily bringing an end to copyright, seeing how it's immensely easy to copy stuff.

When you write a book, it is copyrighted. That means someone cannot take your book and do anything with it that you the copyright holder did not explicitly grant. (They can't even read it unless you say so!) But the more important thing is that they can't make a copy of it and try to sell it as their own, or make a copy of it and redistribute it freely among their friends. (Or even just redistribute the original.) Is that a good thing to restrict? Well, if your product is so simple that it requires no extra help to set it up or use it or anything, I don't see how it could be called super innovative. Charge for services, not products, and let people copy and distribute as they will. If someone figures out how to serve better than you, they probably deserve the money more than you.

But why was copyright even brought about into the legal system? Let's look at the US Constitution for what it has to say about this:

"To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

Hey look, even the founding fathers seemed to think that nothing was really "invented", just merely "discovered" and "inventor" was just a title of the discoverer. I may be reading too far into that, but still.

So, the purpose of copyright is to promote the progress of Science and "useful Arts". This isn't about benefiting the individual, it's about benefiting society. It's about creating an incentive for the individual to release their ideas to the world instead of keeping them in their head. The founding fathers saw how much science was benefiting humanity, and how open science is, and wanted to encourage more scientists to tinker and uncover new laws of the universe. They were also fond of literature, and wanted to encourage more writers to write and share stories, for it is the written word (probably arising from agricultural beginnings when people had to keep track of numbers) that has cascaded humanity forward a tremendous amount in such a short time.

And here are these individuals or corporations like Disney who want to maintain all rights to their respective creations, which were only possibly created because they had the benefit of humanity's past behind them. And copyright law has extended in years, another insanity, but thanks to Disney wanting control over Mickey Mouse for eternity. That's a dangerous thing about some corporations, because some corporations can last longer than the current human life span. The goal of copyright was to provide incentive to creators, that lasted only a limited time, before entering the public domain and becoming the property of all.

Intellectual property is a joke. Get rid of patents, get rid of trademarks, get rid of copyright. I'll part with a profound statement from Thomas Jefferson. I encourage you to read it.

It has been pretended by some, (and in England especially,) that inventors have a natural and exclusive right to their inventions, and not merely for their own lives, but inheritable to their heirs. But while it is a moot question whether the origin of any kind of property is derived from nature at all, it would be singular to admit a natural and even an hereditary right to inventors. It is agreed by those who have seriously considered the subject, that no individual has, of natural right, a separate property in an acre of land, for instance.

By an universal law, indeed, whatever, whether fixed or movable, belongs to all men equally and in common, is the property for the moment of him who occupies it, but when he relinquishes the occupation, the property goes with it. Stable ownership is the gift of social law, and is given late in the progress of society. It would be curious then, if an idea, the fugitive fermentation of an individual brain, could, of natural right, be claimed in exclusive and stable property.

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.

That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.

Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from them, as an encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without claim or complaint from anybody. Accordingly, it is a fact, as far as I am informed, that England was, until we copied her, the only country on earth which ever, by a general law, gave a legal right to the exclusive use of an idea. In some other countries it is sometimes done, in a great case, and by a special and personal act, but, generally speaking, other nations have thought that these monopolies produce more embarrassment than advantage to society; and it may be observed that the nations which refuse monopolies of invention, are as fruitful as England in new and useful devices.

--Thomas Jefferson, letter to Isaac McPherson, 13 August 1813

Related is Benjamin Franklin's stance on patents.

Posted on 2010-03-06 by Jach

Tags: intellectual property


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