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Feature:Why ideas should not be property 393

Kevin S. Van Horn has written an interesting piece describing why he thinks ideas should not be property. I think that this is something that a lot of us agree with, but he presents it well. Check it out.
The following was written by Slashdot Reader Kevin S. Van Horn

Why Ideas Should Not Be Property

Here's an interesting essay by Benjamin Tucker, that's very relevant to the free / open-source software movement. It predates Richard Stallman and the FSF by a good 85 years, and gives better arguments against the whole notion of ideas as property than I have ever seen expressed elsewhere. I've excerpted the relevant parts below.

  • For the fourth of these monopolies, however, - the patent and copyright monopoly, - a more plausible case can be presented, for the question of property in ideas is a very subtle one. The defenders of such property set up an analogy between the production of material things and the production of abstractions, and on the strength of it declare that the manufacturer of mental products, no less than the manufacturer of material products, is a laborer worthy of his hire. So far, so good. But, to make out their case, they are obliged to go further, and to claim, in violation of their own analogy, that the laborer who creates mental products, unlike the laborer who creates material products, is entitled to exemption from competition.

I take it that, if it were possible, and if it had always been possible, for an unlimited number of individuals to use to an unlimited extent and in an unlimited number of places the same concrete things at the same time, there never would have been any such thing as the institution of property. Under those circumstances the idea of property would never have entered the human mind, or, at any rate, if - it had, would have been summarily dismissed as too gross an absurdity to be seriously entertained for a moment. Had it been possible for the concrete creation or adaptation resulting from the efforts of a single individual to be used contemporaneously by all individuals, including the creator or adapter, the realization, or impending realization, of this possibility, far from being seized upon as an excuse for a law to prevent the use of this concrete thing without the consent of its creator or adapter, and far from being guarded against as an injury to one, would have been welcomed as a blessing to all, - in short, would have been viewed as a most fortunate element in the nature of things. The raison d'etre of property is found in the very fact that there is no such possibility, - in the fact that it is impossible in the nature of things for concrete objects to be used in different places at the same time. This fact existing, no person can remove from another's possession and take to his own use another's concrete creation without thereby depriving that other of all opportunity to use that which he created, and for this reason it became socially necessary, since successful society rests on individual initiative, to protect the individual creator in the use of his concrete creations by forbidding others to use them without his consent. In other words, it became necessary to institute property in concrete things.

But all this happened so long ago that we of today have entirely forgotten why it happened. [...] And so it has come about that [...] most of us are not only doing what we can to strengthen and perpetuate his [property's] reign within the proper and original limits of his sovereignty, but also are mistakenly endeavoring to extend his dominion over things and under circumstances which, in their pivotal characteristic, are precisely the opposite of those out of which his power developed.

All of which is to say in briefer compass, that from the justice and social necessity of property in concrete things we have erroneously assumed the justice and social necessity of property in abstract things, - that is, of property in ideas, - with the result of nullifying to a large and lamentable extent that fortunate element in the nature of things, in this case not hypothetical, but real, - namely, the immeasurably fruitful possibility of the use of abstract things by any number of individuals in any number of places at precisely the same time, without in the slightest degree impairing the use thereof by any single individual. Thus we have hastily and stupidly jumped to the conclusion that property in concrete things logically implies property in abstract things, whereas, if we had had the care and the keenness to accurately analyze, we should have found that the very reason which dictates the advisability of property in concrete things denies the advisability of property in abstract things. We see here a curious instance of that frequent mental phenomenon, - the precise inversion of the truth by a superficial view.

Furthermore, were the conditions the same in both cases, and concrete things capable of use by different persons in different places at the same time, even then, I say, the institution of property in concrete things, though under those conditions manifestly absurd, would be.' infinitely less destructive of individual opportunities, and therefore infinitely less dangerous and detrimental to human welfare, than is the institution of property in abstract things. For it is easy to see that, even should we accept the rather startling hypothesis that a single ear of corn is continually and permanently consumable, or rather inconsumable, by an indefinite number of persons scattered over the surface of the earth, still the legal institution of property in concrete things that would secure to the sower of a grain of corn the exclusive use of the resultant ear would not, in so doing, deprive other persons of the right to sow other grains of corn and become exclusive users of their respective harvests; whereas the legal institution of property in abstract things not only secures to the inventor, say, of the steam engine the exclusive use of the engines which he actually makes, but at the same time deprives all other persons of the right to make for themselves other engines involving any of the same ideas. Perpetual property in ideas, then, which is the logical outcome of any theory of property in abstract things, would, had it been in force in the lifetime of James Watt, have made his direct heirs the owners of at least nine-tenths of the now existing wealth of the world; and, had it been in force in the lifetime of the inventor of the Roman alphabet, nearly all the highly civilized peoples of the earth would be today the virtual slaves of that inventor's heirs, which is but another way of saying that, instead of becoming highly civilized, they would have remained in the state of semi-barbarism. It seems to me that these two statements, which in my view are incontrovertible, are in themselves sufficient to condemn property in ideas forever.

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Feature:Why ideas should not be property

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    The reason why intellectual property is protected is the same reason that any property is protected. Whether by physical or mental labor you create value, the creator is much less likely to create value if the product of their creation is taken from them. If it is intellectual property then I may deign to sell licenses and get royalties if my invention is popular. I may also give it away and receive tremendous popularity and adulation from the masses. That is my choice.

    If I invent an immensely successful anti-cancer drug, I am much less likely to go about getting the tremendous capitalization required to test it and bring it to market. Without patent protection their is no reason to add value to the system other than in simply producing the thing and selling it.

    Basically patent protection claims that there are some people who have the rare ability to invent new things. They must be rewarded in some way or they will not share those ideas, because they must live in a scarce society also. They must also eat, go to their 9 to 5 job etc. Certainly patents are not the only way, but they are a significant way.

    Sometimes patents are the best way, sometimes the GPL is the best way. Use a little Zen and grok why this is so. If I have a piece of slick, efficient code and I give it away and it gets used then I buy myself into a sort of immortality and many, many people benefit. The value of that is priceless.

    Take your pick.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    " The whole point of Linux is open source. Meaning that peoples ideas are shared freely, which is pretty much the opposite of IP, afaik. And, all OS-wars aside, Linux is obviously not dead. The system works, and the reason people add to the collective pool of knowledge (embodied in source code) is simply because they want to see the system do a certain thing. I'm pretty sure thats why most (probably close to all) GPL'd packages are created to begin with.

    And the Linux phenomenon is so much fun because it WORKS. Even Linux's competitors admit this. "

    And where do most of the developers get their money?

    1. Work for a company that sells proprietary products.
    1a. Work as a "waiter";-)
    2. Work for universities that are paid in the end by companies producing proprietary products.
    3. Students who either support themselves by 1. or 2. or are supported by their parents who make money via 1. or 2.
    4. Work for a company who pays them to write free software; that company is made profitable due to the free work of others, which is in turn made possible via 1. 2. or 3.

    Note: it would be possible to only use option 1a. but it seems to me that this option values intellectual results worthless and is not the soceity in which I would want to live.

    There are NO examples of the end result of a completely free software system. Innovation on the free software side and the proprietary side is inexcorably linked and to try and say one can exist without the other while only talking about "freedom" is naive.

    To counter this, find a system in which no one makes money in any way from the restriction of IP rights, and is self sustaining (while at least to the extent our current system is:-).
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The assumption being made by IP laws is that ideas have a unique origin,
    but this is often not the case. The airplane was independently discovered
    by several people within a few years of the Wright brother's discovery.
    Basically, the time was right for the idea and it just evolved.

    This has happened countless times throughout history. Why? Because despite
    all the folklore we spread about great scientists/engineers inventing
    great earth-shattering things out of nothing, this rarely happens
    in practise.

    Most discoveries are incremental:
    "If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the
    shoulders of giants."
    -- Isaac Newton

    Many of the truly earth-shattering discoveries are accidental:
    "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new
    discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny ...'"
    -- Isaac Asimov

    If an idea is incremental (as most ideas are) or accidental, should it be
    patentable? Many ideas do not seem obviously incremental because they come
    from many sources. Having more than one source makes it more legitimate
    because as everyone knows:
    "Quoting one is plagiarism. Quoting many is research."
    -- Unknown

    But if it's incremental or accidental, it's likely that someone will
    *independently* come up with a similar idea. If someone does, should
    IP laws apply? Should this person's livelihood and the livelihood of all
    other independent discoverers be infringed upon by the first person's claim?

    If the wrong IP laws are in place, innovation is hindered:
    "If I have not seen as far as others, it is because giants were standing
    on my shoulders."
    -- Hal Abelson

    and "trivial" ideas get locked in complicated licencing agreements
    "In computer science, we stand on each other's feet."
    -- Brian K. Reid

    This issue, is independent of whether IP is property or not, but since
    very little in software cannot be independently discovered, it's definitely
    not irrelevant.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The assumption being made by IP laws is that ideas have a unique origin,
    but this is often not the case. The airplane was independently discovered
    by several people within a few years of the Wright brother's discovery.
    Basically, the time was right for the idea and it just evolved.

    This has happened countless times throughout history. Why? Because despite
    all the folklore we spread about great scientists/engineers inventing
    great earth-shattering things out of nothing, this rarely happens
    in practise.

    Most discoveries are incremental:
    "If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the
    shoulders of giants."
    -- Isaac Newton

    Many of the truly earth-shattering discoveries are accidental:
    "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new
    discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny ...'"
    -- Isaac Asimov

    If an idea is incremental (as most ideas are) or accidental, should it be
    patentable? Many ideas do not seem obviously incremental because they come
    from many sources. Having more than one source makes it more legitimate
    because as everyone knows:
    "Quoting one is plagiarism. Quoting many is research."
    -- Unknown

    But if it's incremental or accidental, it's likely that someone will
    *independently* come up with a similar idea. If someone does, should
    IP laws apply? Should this person's livelihood and the livelihood of
    all other independent discoverers be infringed upon by the first
    person's claim?

    If the wrong IP laws are in place, innovation is hindered:
    "If I have not seen as far as others, it is because giants were standing
    on my shoulders."
    -- Hal Abelson

    and "trivial" ideas get locked in complicated licencing agreements
    "In computer science, we stand on each other's feet."
    -- Brian K. Reid

    This issue, is independent of whether IP is property or not, but since
    very little in software cannot be independently discovered, it's definitely
    not irrelevant.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    If you want to encourage the copyright law to be changed to allow free copying, there are two barriers to this:

    1) there must be a technology infrastructure to enable creators of works to receive due compensation upon deriving use out of their works: i.e. copying a song or a book. This is a requirement imposed by our modern economy - without it, there is no economic incentive for authors/artists to continue what they are doing.

    2) there must be a change in the widespread believe that protecting "information" is as important as protecting "knowledge. Information is noisy and has a short shelf-life. Knowledge, on the other hand, is ever-changing and growing, and IS ONLY IN THE HEADS of PEOPLE.

    It is knowledge, and the ability to learn that is the real competitive advantage. If people en masse start to belive that, then we'll see change.
  • If these are the seeds I've heard about recently, they won't germinate anyway -- they're engineered not to.

    Perhaps FSF should start a Free Seeds movement. After all, aren't the gene wizards twiddling with the most important software of all?

  • What if the infertility is/becomes a recessive trait, and is adjacent to a very positive gene?

    Don't know about being next to a very positive gene, but that situation is already very common (look at all the infertile people, IVF is a booming business last I heard). Infertility can only propagate as a recessive gene. If it happens to get re-enforced, that individual will be infertile. Oh, they had some really good traits? that's what having more than one zygote is for (along with population growth in general).

    To sum up, I don't think you have to worry too much in the long run.

  • That's the only real way an infertility gene can wipe out a whole population. Chances? Slim, but there.
  • Did it AFFECT the economic interests of Average-Poor-Southern-White-Guy? Heck, yes.

    Whether it neccesarily offered a benefit's a somewhat more questionable thing. Far more of the poor non-slaveowners who defended the institution did so (at least in the view of Northern observers) to prevent themselves from being the lowest class of society -- "if you can't be better than a [black person], who can you be better than?"
  • Posted by wadageek:

    Nobody will be able to convince me that Stephen King should not profit from the stories he writes; After all, it is his life's work and the product of his 'tormented' mind. The same thing is true for Led Zepplin's 'Stairway' and the obviously deserve some control over it's use otherwise, the work could be tarnished.

    An idea is born from one's mind or perhaps even from one's soul. In a very real essence, the original idea is the ultimate expression of one's self. Can you think of anything that would better represent who you really are than your own ideas? I can't.

    But there is another component. We are all products of other people's ideas. Someone had to have the idea to begin to speak, someone else had to start written languages. English evolved from other aincent languages and the same can be said for programming languages. To see how ideas are borrowed and improved on just look at the evolution of the automobile in the past 100 years.

    The ability to borrow from someone's idea and build on it is crucial to our ability as a society to advance. But in all fairness, "credit where credit is due" is also a pretty important concept. This is why I like the concept of open source, you can see that both ideals are honored in it.

    Linus has been given the credit he is due but legions of people have grabbed on to the product of his labors and have used it in ways that he would have never envisioned! Each person gives a little and gets a lot. That is the way that it ought to work.

    Having said all that, I think that there are times when ownership of an idea (by way of patent or copyright) is necessary. It is not immoral to profit from one's ideas, it is the way the world works. If you are a company that has spent tens of thousands of dollars developing something, you do not want you competition to get it just by downloading it from your server or website. If they happen to get a copy of it somehow, yud deserve to be able to go after them.

    This is one of those cases where both sides are righ and nobody is wrong. It just so happens that it is hard to get both positions to work in the same instance. Kinda like the republicans and the democrats. Maybe the software industry needs someone like Jesse Ventura to come along and shake things into shape.
  • Posted by dwarin:

    The comparison between concrete and abstract
    things was disingenuous and one-sided.

    In summary, the article says that if I grow an
    ear of corn, and someone else takes it, they
    interfere with *my* ability to eat it. On the
    other hand, if I design a steam engine, and
    someone else uses my design to build a steam
    engine, that doesn't in any way interfere with
    my ability to also build steam engines. In
    other words many people can use an abstract
    thing at once. Therefore, the article
    concludes, unlike concrete things like ears
    of corn, it doesn't make sense for abstract
    things, like steam-engine designs, to be

    The problem with this is that it ignores the
    fact that in some ways, abstract and concrete
    things are the same. Something like a
    steam-engine design doesn't just pop into one's
    head. It takes years of research and
    development to create. Once I've created it,
    someone with much more resources than me could
    take my design, produce lots of steam engines,
    and sell them, depriving me of the ability to
    benefit from my labor. In this sense, it's no
    different then if they'd taken away my ears of

    This is in fact what would happen without
    copyrights: large companies like Microsoft or
    Ford would simply hunt around for useful
    inventions, and use their resources to
    mass-produce and market the products without
    giving any credit or reward to the people who
    invented them.

    Unless Van Horn can include this similarity
    between concrete and abstract things in his
    comparison, his comparison seems disingenuous
    and academic.
  • Posted by dwarin:

    I agree with you that

    That is as much their right [to create a
    similar idea] as selling info is yours.

    The problem comes when someone can copyright an
    idea, thereby preventing others from selling their
    own similar ideas.
  • If people are allowed to freely copy paintings, music, software, etc. this has the potential to erode the economic incentive of artists to produce the works in the first place. This means fewer works, and this means a less successful economy, which is bad for society.

    Lets say, just for the sake of argument, that paintings, music, and software are all art. (Many think that yes, even software, is art.) Art is a form of an idea, right?

    One of the funny things about art is that there are people who will do it, and do it well, without ever having the promise of receiving any amount of money for it. They love doing it, so they do it. And the reason they are able to do it is because all of their other needs are taken care of--in other words, they don't have to worry about finding food or shelter or any of the other various necessities of life because those things have become very easy to attain.

    Now we're trying to make art into an ``industry''. We, as a society, are trying to replace all this free time for artful expression with economically profitable work time by actually making art into something that a person needs to be paid for in order to survive. All of a sudden, the compensation for creating a painting or writing music or coding software or doing any other number of `arty' things has changed from the nearly unexplainable, ``if you have to ask, you'll never know'' why, to being compensated with money. This is nothing new, I suppose. But copyright and patent laws are also stopping people from utilizing their freedom of expression which is something rather new. There are enough people in the world that sometimes ideas are reproduced many times. Is it right that only the first person to get to the patent office gets to use their idea? To answer my own question, no, I do not think that is right.

    This is all a load of bull. Economics aren't everything. I'm happy to have a roof over my head, food in my kitchen, and a computer to hack on. I don't need a whole lot else. Chasing ugly little slips of paper doesn't make me as happy as crashing my kernel does.

    Of course, not everyone thinks this way. I wouldn't dream of stopping anyone in their pursuit of ugly slips of paper if that is what makes them happy. But I'll be damned if I let them stop me from doing what I love to do. Those people who like copyright and patent laws on ideas only seem to want to do that to me.

  • A few people have pointed out the origins of copyright law in the early 1700s, under the influence of John Locke, who said that "Every Man is a Property in his own Person", and defined "Property" as everything acquired or produced through personal efforts. It's the basis of modern liberal capitalism, saying that the State or society shouldn't be able to rob you of what's yours.

    However, "Property" at the time was closely bound up with "Propriety", as the words suggest. The protection of personal Property comes with a set of moral obligations for the individual and society. In short, we should think it proper to offer our labour (read: ideas) for the public good, but society should recognise and reward that offer. If this sounds like RMS's "gift economy", then it's because it is: but it's plain to see that he, like Linus, Larry Wall and many other developers, receive a far richer reward for their labour than the mere riches of Bill Gates.

    This world of "propriety" -- giving and receiving because it's a good thing all round -- is very different from the MS culture of the "proprietary", which gives to the world with a closed fist and makes demands out of its giving.

    What we need, in a sense, is an IP law which rewards propriety, and restricts the proprietary. Those who contribute ideas, in order to have them flourish, deserve protection, rather than those who regard ideas as things to be hoarded until the time comes to sue.
  • The whole issue of intellectual property rights -- of which this is a part -- was discussed quite heatedly around the turn of the century by such anarchists and radical individualists as Tucker, Lysander Spooner, and others. The debate is discussed in a superb paper [digiweb.com] by libertarian feminist Wendy McElroy at http://www.digiweb.com/igeldard/LA/heritage/intelp ro.htm .


  • > many orphans and widows had no source of income other than copyright licencing fees.

    While that's certainly a noble reason, it doesn't apply today.

    I dunno. The estates of AA Milne, CS Lewis, RA Heinlein and others might not agree with you so readily.

    In any case, the classic view of copyright is that it does not protect an idea per se -- e.g. the peaceful tranquillity of a wooded valley in the summer etc. -- but rather its particular expression in specific poetry, prose, music, painting, or whatnot.

    What about artistic integrity? Are the activist film directors completely out of line when they sue distributors for cutting their movie in a way which -- in their opinion -- destroys its artistic integrity? What rights does an artist have over his creation? What rights does a programmer have over his code?

    Personally I have no exhaustive answer to those questions, but I definitely can't accept the view that the creator of a poem or a sonata or a program has no more fundamental property rights with regard to it than does the first passerby who notices it.


  • In the latter part of the last century there were at least four different schools of anarchist thought:

    communist anarchism (Marxism);

    syndical anarchism;

    individualist anarchism;

    Christian anarchism (Tolstoy; more accurately called pacifist anarchism).

    All shared the labor theory of value, whose sole remaining proponents nowadays are the socialists. This may be the source of your confusion; Tucker was usually classified as an individualist anarchist. The communist anarchists -- the ones involved in the Haymarket Riots -- sneered at the individualist anarchists and called them "Boston anarchists" -- since Tucker's magazine Liberty was published in Boston.

    Contemporary political classifications don't always fit historical situations too well. (In fact, some political classifications don't fit the contemporary situation too well.)

    Craig [airnet.net]

  • > ... Russian and Spanish revolutions ...

    Hmmm. I was under the impression that the anarchist faction in Spain was mostly of the syndical anarchist faction (as was, I believe, Bakunin), but I'll take your word for it, though early Marxists tended to classify themselves as anarchists on the basis of the "withering away of the state."


  • Whoops! You're right [zetetics.com]. Bakunin was a communist anarchist, apparently at odds with the bolsheviks, the menshviks, and nearly everybody else....


  • OTOH, having Monsanto creating seeds that spread infertility among plant crops is a criminal action tantamount to biological warfare

    I can assure you that the terminator gene won't be "spread among other crops". Billions of years of evolution won't be thwarted so easily. Inability to reproduce, genetically speaking, is a disadvantage, and the trait won't [duh] be passed on to the next generation.

    That doesn't make Monsanto any less evil, however. If they could find a way to profit from global crop destruction, they would.

    Disclaimer: The paragraph directly above this one, about Monsanto being evil, is my opinion. Please don't sue me, oh great god Monsanto!
  • You made alot of good points in your post, but:

    Monsanto plans to soon release Roundup Ready seeds with terminator genes which will prevent second generation seeds from germinating. Many environmentalists and geneticists have stated concerns that such terminator genes could be passed into the general crop population via pollen and potentially kill off our original crops leaving only corporate produced seeds available to farmers. Such a move is insanity if we consider survival a worthy goal for humanity.

    The fact that the terminator genes prevent the crop from reproducing will absolutely prevent it from "spreading" into other crops. See my other post above.

    As far as labeling goes, I totally agree with you. Monsanto doesn't want the consumer to be informed. They have the same attitude regarding labeling of milk that is from rBGH treated cows. Monsanto is simply evil.

    Disclaimer: This post contains my opinions regarding the evilness of Monsanto. If you are a lawyer who works for Monsanto, please disregard all of the content above this disclaimer.
  • I think most people will agree that a company which invests resources to create a product (software, genetic, etc.) have the right to be the primary benificiary of that work. Patent and copyright law exists to guarantee this. It seems to me, though, that a third component-- trade secrets-- is often left off the list, despite the fact that it seems to be the logical way to handle these sorts of things.

    Companies like Monsanto, Fraunhofer (MP3), etc. should not be allowed to patent those ideas and inventions which are logically viewed as trade secrets. Creating a new strain of corn, for example, doesn't involve the creation of a new gene or genes, nor does it involve any great discovery in the process of inserting genes from one organism into another. Rather, it involves the novel combination of known substances via known processes into a novel and useful product.

    Think about Coke for a moment. Water, High fructose corn syrup, caffeine, etc. are all known substances anyone can obtain. Everyone whose taken high school chemistry knows how to combine these elements into a solution. Because no one knows exactly what proportion to combine these ingredients in, nor exactly how to mix them, however, no one can exactly duplicate Coke. Many try to create a similair product, and many make a healthy profit in doing so, but no one is "stealing" from Coke. It's the difference between Coke patenting "the production of any cola-flavored beverage" and them bottling their secret recipie for soda.

    Monsanto et all can certainly operate under the same system. Monsanto can sell "SUPERCorn" and advertise its many benfits-- higher yield, shorter growing season, resists insects, etc. while retaining the precise method for producing such a beast as a trade secret. If Upstart Labs can use the idea "a crop that resists insects" to design their own "Upstart-Corn" strain to compete with Monsanto or make an "Upstart-Pine" strain that resists termites. Monsanto gains the primary benefit from their work, others are free to innovate, to compete or to carve out their own niche, and the world in general benefits.

    Fraunhofer can deem the exact method by which they compress sound a trade secret and sell their work. If it's truely innovative, they'll have the benefit not only of a head start until someone can implement a competitor as well as a quality lead. You or I could use their idea to build our own GPL'd compression system, the phone company could reduce the data required to hold a telephone conversation, and some entrepenuer in 5 years could use it to build a new multi-million dollar corporation. The innovator gets the primary benefit, but others are free to innovate if they cannot.
  • Sorry. I had a short fit of frustration. Obviously not everyone on /. is a moron and I apologize to those who I offended. Of course, no apologies if you ARE a moron.
  • 1. Work for a company that sells proprietary products.
    1a. Work as a "waiter";-)
    2. Work for universities that are paid in the end by companies producing proprietary products.
    3. Students who either support themselves by 1. or 2. or are supported by their parents who make money via 1. or 2.
    4. Work for a company who pays them to write free software; that company is made profitable due to the free work of others, which is in turn made possible via 1. 2. or 3.

    In a recent issue of the IEEE's computer magazine (Computer?) -- I think the one about the US Digital Library Initiative -- there was a brief survey of the practical results of various government-funded research programs in computing. I think you might be surprised by just how much of the modern US computer industry is based on government-funded basic research.

    One interesting point raised in the article (and this ties in with the whole discussion) is that the government's role has been crucial in funding long-term projects (20+ years), like AI and VR efforts which are only now starting to bear commercial fruit. Without the government's investment and support, it is conceivable -- maybe even likely -- that the US would not be in the leading position, as the basic research would never have been funded that enabled the private companies to make their products.

    I guess the bone I'm picking in your post is #2, since those same private companies are indirectly supported and made viable by the government.

    Well, that's all now. Back to my essay. Never leave a 4,000 word essay until the night before, especially when the prof demands that you think...

  • I doubt the farmer is allowed by the contract to resell the seed. If he is, then it will probably be under the same conditions that he agreed to.

  • "If Microsoft is to fail, let it be because we failed to innovate, not because our innovations were outlawed."

    Hmm.. yeah. The only problem is that he can never come up with anything that Microsoft "innovated." They bought all their innovative stuff. I don't think we ever have to fear Microsoft failing because they failed to innovate. We've already seen that their monopoly is much too strong for that to happen.

  • Whoops. That's obvious. I meant reselling it for planting purposes. That was the issue here. If the seed is sold for planting purposes, then the person who buys the grain will be under the same restrictions.

  • Companies like Monsanto, Fraunhofer (MP3), etc. should not be allowed to patent those ideas and inventions which are logically viewed as trade secrets. Creating a new strain of corn, for example, doesn't involve the creation of a new gene or genes, nor does it involve any great discovery in the process of inserting genes from one organism into another. Rather, it involves the novel combination of known substances via known processes into a novel and useful product.

    Trade secrets don't work very well anymore. We can pick apart just about anything to see how it works. Monsanto could create the corn and a month or two later someone else would be making it as well. Where is the benefit to Monsanto? That's why they are prohibiting farmers from saving some of their crop for replanting. They would not be able to recoup the money that was spent on developing the corn. The same goes for Fraunhofer. Their compression algorithm would be figured out and they would have face competitors who can sell their products for whatever price they want because they didn't have to invest anything in the development.

    I don't necessarily agree that Monsanto should not have been awarded a patent. I do think that patents, as they exist today, do more harm than good. They simply last too long for the rate of innovation today to be truly useful to society as a whole. Our government enforces these supposedly for the benefit of the country as a whole. I don't think patents are benefitting us as much as they used to. Namely because they last way too long. By the time a patent runs out, the technology it covers is usually long outdated. They should be reduced to half their length, or perhaps just 5 years. Software patents only last for maybe 3 years. That's time enough for a software company to profit from its creation and still give other companies a chance to do something with the technology before it becomes obsolete.

  • 1) How many times have you had a good idea, independently, and later found out that someone else had already thought of it and patented it?

    That's why we have patent searches and the IBM patent database (for those of us who can't afford to have someone do the search for us).

    In most cases a 1 to 2 year patent would be enough to make alot of money, thereby encouraging ideas *and* encouraging value added ideas (the sole reason patent laws were created). The only time this falls apart is in the case of really long projects such as creation of new drugs, for which other measures can be taken.

    I think it depends on the kind of product. I think 5 years is fair for most products. For software patents, I would say 2 or 3 years is optimal.

  • by Danse ( 1026 ) on Tuesday March 23, 1999 @06:15AM (#1967198)

    I heard about this on NPR the other day. I didn't like it either. It's perfectly legal right now though.. maybe that's what I didn't like. Genes should not be considered IP. They were not invented. Procedures for manipulating genes are another matter. However, Monsanto didn't patent the procedure, they patented the result of the procedure. I don't agree with that. I do believe that companies who invent such things as new strains of corn, or whatever other crop, should receive some kind of return on their investment. If they had to sink millions into the research, they should be compensated and be able to profit from the research. If they can't receive some benefit from doing research to create new products, then what incentive would they have had to create the product in the first place? Would I want to put myself in debt for life just to invent a new type of corn to give to the world? I doubt it. Of course, research costs could be dramatically lowered if they were free to use other people's research instead of reinventing the wheel all the time. But that opens the door to all kinds of unscrupulous people who will take advantage of such a system. Perhaps when something such as this comes along it should be bought outright by the government and given to the country. That probably has capitalists everywhere shouting and spitting at their monitors, but so far, I can't come up with a fair way of doing things that won't be exploited.

    What was it that Gordon Gecko said in Wall Street? "Greed is good. Greed works." I believe that was it. Greed seems to be the entire incentive for doing anything worthwhile in this (or most any other) country. (Not necessarily the greed of the scientists that are doing the work, but the greed of the stockholders who are expecting to make money by funding the research.) Maybe that's the real problem. Since there is no way to live a comfortable life without money, we have to make as much as we can to allow ourselves to live at the standard we desire as well as to have something to ensure our future comfort and pass on to our children. I don't see this changing anytime soon.. or indeed anytime at all. Money is a necessity for life in this country. (Unless you want to live in a cabin on a mountain.) People need it to survive, so it's human nature to want to have as much of it as possible so that you can not only survive, but prosper. Much like squirrels hoarding nuts for the winter.

    Since our entire economy depends on the ownership of ideas, I don't know how (especially with the world economy in its present condition) we could move away from the current system. Anyone else have any thoughts on this?

  • Actually, the terminator gene CAN cross with neighboring crops, and render their seed infertile. Monsantos trick is to insert a dominant gene into the seed that codes for a toxic substance. They also insert a short sequence that prevents that trait from becoming active. Because of the way the control is onserted, it will be 'edited out' of the following generation, leaving only the DOMINANT deadly gene which causes the seed to be killed before it can effectivly germinate.

    Since the trait is dominant, it will be expressed in a hybrid between the terminator and natural variety.

    Consider a recessive trait for infertility in both of a breeding pair. 1/4 of the offspring will be infertile. The rest might well carry the recessive trait with no harm to themselves. They may also breed with a non-carrier, and spread the recessive.

  • It is interesting though, that even adding up all the taxes, bills, and mortgage, The house I live in now costs less than rent for a 2 bedroom apartment. What the landlord had that the tennant doesn't was enough money for a down payment. (And with the rent being so high, the tennant will have a hard time saving up for a down payment).

  • For a good historical account of how different nations of the world have evolved into the economic beings they are today, and a very good account of how "property-driven" society has proven to be very successful, read _Guns, Germs, and Steel_ by Jared Diamond.

    In my own opinion, property over intellectual works, i.e. the words, source code, etc. is logical. The ideas behind them are another matter, and it is difficult to justify "ownership" over ideas.
  • Actually, that's the biggest reason why copyright/IP protection exists: to ensure compensation.

    If an infrastructure was created to enable free copying BUT also compensation for the creators, I think things could work.
  • Our modern economy is largely based upon the "illogical" property scheme that forces the public to pay for copyrighted works. This economy has allowed the developed world to reach to the highest standards of living in history. Yes, it has a long way to go, as much of the world (and the developed world) is still in poverty. But please, don't detract from its success unless you can offer an alternative.

    If people are allowed to freely copy paintings, music, software, etc. this has the potential to erode the economic incentive of artists to produce the works in the first place. This means fewer works, and this means a less successful economy, which is bad for society.

    If you can work out an alternative system to free enterprise capitalism that works AS WELL, please state it. Otherwise, understand that "freeing" one's property, under THIS economic system MUST BE A CHOICE, not a law.

    (unless there is in an infrastructure IN PLACE to ensure the compensation of creators WHILE allowing freedom to copy)
  • Copyright is an economic incentive FOR those authors and artists to create the works that we enjoy. As RMS points out in his essay on copyright, it is a "bargain" with society: trade in the right to copy for increased access to these works.

    Of course, NOW that its much easier to copy material, RMS says the law is a "bad deal". Well, I'm a little skeptical about that. My view is that the problem with copyright is the changed INTENT of the law; instead of preventing competition, which was the original intent, copyright now is used to ensure due compensation to the artists/authors/publishers.

    Free copying cannot work under our economic system unless we have a compensation system in place that enables both free copying and compensation for every one of those copies.
  • After reading RMS' essays on copyright, it seems that he would prefer if copyright law were to make the GPL irrelevant - i.e. the spirit of the GPL: enabling free redistribution - is embodied in copyright law.

    In other words, the creators can not restrict copying under law.

    Is this a good thing? It's questionable.

  • Well said. I agree with you.

    Note that the GPL is at best RMS' temporary measure to promote freedom. The end result, for him, is a change in the copyright LAWS that embody the spirit of the GPL.

    Myself, I like the GPL and free software, but am not quite sure I agree with the end situation, unless of course we can find a way to pay these creators $$$ while we do our copying.

    Copyright always has been about trading personal freedom for increased access to creative works (ensuring copy protection is an artist's or publisher's primary economic incentive to do what they do).... RMS belives that freedom takes precedence overall... but if economic incentive is removed from the creators of copyrighted works, then I fear there will be dire concequences in our economy and standard of living, unless an alternative incentive is created.

  • There always HAS been different levels of lifestyle. What is important is that those living in poverty in the developed world are STILL better off than those living in poverty during the dark ages.

    Same thing applies to the number of people that HAVE to live in poverty. Right now, there are a lot less than there were several centuries ago.
    Our work to improve quality of life for all is not done, but there has been an observable improvement in lifestyle as our economic systems have evolved.

  • Yes, the GPL is possible now because of copyright law.

    However, if copyright laws were amended to ensure freedom of
    copying and freedom of source (as RMS wishes to be done -
    see his essays), then the GPL *WOULD NOT BE NEEDED*.

    Now do you see my point?

  • Even the hallowed GPL code will eventually fall into the public domain (copyrights expire 75 years after the authors death).

    Uhhh... sorry. It's 95 years now. The Copyright Extension Act passed last year.

    Actually, unless the legal challenge fails, in effect this makes copyrights open-ended. Any time a powerful corporation sees their copyrights about to expire (in this case most likely Disney, since Mickey Mouse was about to go public domain), they can just shower Congress with money and -- Presto -- a copyright extension! Wow, just like the sorcerer's apprentice.

  • No one forces you to share your ideas.

    Force only comes into the equation if you try to enforce your copyright or patent.

    Suppose you have an idea about a new algorithm, so you patent it (actually, you patent the application of the algorithm since technically it's illegal to patent algorithms per se). Then, I come along and think up the same algorithm, and I write a program using it. In this situation, no one has forced you to do anything. In fact, you're not even involved with my program or "my" idea until your lawyer sends me a letter telling me to "cease and desist". Now, who do you think is using the force here? It's not me -- it's the government, and they are using it on your behalf.

    The only way an idea can be your property is if everyone else is forced to acknowledge your "rights".
  • Yup, contracts are fine.

    But if I am a miller and I buy some of that seed to mill into flour, and decide "aww, hell, I'll have a go at this farming lark too", and so I plant that seed - well, what does that make me?

    Or do the people who buy from the farmer also sign contracts saying what they can't do with their seed?

    It all sounds like a house of cards to me.
  • Errr yeah. I thought that was the whole point of slashdot :-)
  • Altruism is wonderful. People helping others from the sheer joy of it, without any desire for recompense or even recognition, is a glorious and precious thing.

    But how does it put food on the table? If I have some wonderful idea, shouldn't I be entitled to make some money from it? Without some form of ownership of ideas, someone else can simply take my idea and use it and not give me a thin cent. I'm stuck saying "do you want fries with that?" Uncool. I wouldn't have the job I have now, because my company wouldn't exist. The software company I work at competes in a market with some very big names. We do pretty darn well because we came up with some clever ideas, and the big guys have not yet been so clever as us. If my company didn't *own* those clever ideas, the big guys could simply adopt them for their own. In the enterprise markets, customers prefer to work with the big guys, so we'd be toast. All we have is a better product. If the big guy can take what makes our product better without having to pay us, we're sunk.

    And what about motivation? Capitalism works, in part, because it is dependable and predictable. If you pay people, they will tend to do what they are paid to do. Some folks will continue to do it if they aren't paid. This is great, more power to them. They drive good software development, and nearly the whole open source movement. I say nearly because a growing trend is for other companies with an interest in the market are paying programmers to contribute. (Y'know, like stuff from Red Hat Labs.) Its the same folks, they could have written the code anyway, but they didn't until they were paid to do so. Where did the money come from? Companies who got paid for their ideas. Red Hat, using GNOME as the example, has done some clever things with their distribution, and gotten some useful name recognition. However, they only make money from that name recognition because they are the only ones who get to sell that product package with that name. If just anybody could clone the disks and manuals and sell it, people will do so and the market will shift until nobody is making any more money than they could putting the cash in a savings account. Bye-bye finance for open source. The Red Hat distro becomes a commodity product, just like nails and pencils. IP is even easier to copy, as pointed out in the essay, there aren't even any real startup costs as barriers to market entry. Just need some printing equipment and a CD burner and you're off. IBM owns more software patents than anybody else, and they have used some of their money to pay for Java development. Good. But they aren't doing it because its the right thing to do, they hope that in the end they will make more money from the effort than they spent. Which is their clear, legal duty to their stockholders. So free software is funded by ownership of ideas.

    Yes, ownership of ideas can hurt the community and small teams. But it is also a protection. Without any form of ownership of IP, all licensing, EVEN THE GPL, is gone. Sure, you can have anything of Microsoft's that you want, but MS can take anything they want, too. And they have more money, and more marketing. So all of RMS's programming efforts go straight into a bank account in Redmond. I doubt they'll thank him. Getting rid of ownership of ideas will change the market, maybe hurt some of the big guys, but once everything settles, it'll be a group of companies that produce everything, and *all* of the small guys will be gone. They had no protection under the law, and the only money they'd ever get for their ideas is a salary from the company who took his ideas if they decide to bring him on.

    If we were starting from zero and built a society that had never had ownership of ideas, maybe it could work. But not now, not here.

    Arguments can be made about the *form* of IP ownership. Patent vs. copyright, owning software vs. licensing it, all of these can be debated and legislated. But the entire concept of the ownership of ideas cannot be scrapped.

  • I fully Agree that you own your IMPLEMENTATION of an idea, however the underlying idea should be free for others to use. Patent law (as applied in the US today) forbids this, even if someone else COMPLETELY INDEPENDENTLY discovers the same idea and produces thier own implementation. The fear is others might produce a better implementation, and actually COMPETE with you. One who truly believes in a free market, capitalist economic model (as you claim to) SHOULD (logically) approve of this competition, however that is not how our legal system (which is often absurdely illogical) treats the issue.
  • But with intellectual property, things are different. If you have an idea, can't I independently have the same idea? Even if you had it first? "No, I'm sorry, that's my thought. You have to pay me to think that now."


  • Until someone can read my mind without my intervention, my thoughts are mine, I'm afraid, as it would harm me (in terms of the time and effort it would take) to communicate them.

    But the issue here really is about patent protection: should it be possible to make an idea public knowledge and simultaneously forbid others from using it without license?

    Contractarians would say no: you can't restrict me without my consent, though, in practice. Your recourse is to not make the idea known to me. In practice of course, we accept all sorts of restrictions upon ourselves in exchange for others accepting similar restrictions upon THEMselves. We generally don't kill others because we don't want to be killed ourselves, to put it bluntly: killing is "wrong" because we think that "being killed" is wrong.

    There are two counter arguments: First, that without protection against copying an idea, there is no incentive to innovate since the opportunity to profit is lost. Second, some ideas can't be exploited while keeping them secret (i.e. once shown, the idea is obvious).

    But the key here is "copying". Patent protection not only provides recourse against unauthorized copying, it also prohibits indepedenendent reinvention. And, once the idea has been applied, reverse engineering may be trivial. This argument applies strongly in the pharmeceutical trade, where a new drug can cost millions to develop, but be copied easily.

    Yes, the inventor is entitled to profit from his invention, and yes, he may require users to agree to indemnify him against their unauthorized copying. A life-saving invention that is arbitrarly expensive and reserved for the very rich is still better than it not being invented.

    However, that's not what patents do. They restrict independent rediscovery, made all the more desirable when a solution to a problem is demonstrated to exist (by the first inventor), but kept secret and expensive.

    Again, the argument is, "but we can't profit AND keep it secret". Tough noogies, I say.

    So, restrictions against COPYING are fine, since ideas are properly the property of the thinker, however, restrictions against reinvention are not. Furthermore, the burden of proof should rest on the accuser, instead of the defendant, in such a dispute.

  • There are a couple of points to cover here.

    The first is that ideas do not spring into the world from nowhere. At the very least there is a lost opportunity cost to the thinker as the time spent generating the idea could have been spent elsewhere. Therefore, ideas are not "free" as in "free beer". The fact that ideas can be reproduced at no cost must not overshadow the fact that they cannot be produced at no cost.

    Second, ideas are often of very little use without a considerable amount of effort being put into the expression of that idea. For example, Hero demonstrated the idea of a steam engine but it took a lot more effort to make something useful from it.

    I find myself in the peculiar and uncomfortable position of defending those who support the concepts of patents and copyrights. Perhaps those institutions are not completely bankrupt but can be salvaged through modification.

    I suspect that the first place to seek to modify these systems is in the length of time that the protection is in place. My understanding is that the purpose of these systems is to provide reasonable compensation to those who produce the work. The issues then become "What is 'reasonable compensation'?", "How can 'reasonable compensation' be determined?", and "How can 'reasonable compensation' be delivered to the creator?".

    The second place to consider modifying these systems is to be more rigorous in the care taken in defining what is being protected. The protection is to enable the creator to collect compensation on his production, not on the production of others.

    On the other hand, while I think the statements above are true, it may be that the greatest compensation to the thinkers and developers of ideas is perhaps in the more abstract concept of making the world a better place for all. I.e., the "stone soup" model.

  • Let's be honest... What is so bad about a communist state? And I do mean communist, not the fascist totalitarian nightmare that Russia was.

    People working with their neighbors, not against them. The OSS community is all about such communism. Everyone according to his ability. Everyone according to his need.

    I'll admit that humanity is not ready for total communism yet. There are too many lazy sods out there who whould try to just live off the system, be parasitic rather symbiotic. But the fact of the matter is that we've made a prototype, and its working! Now all we need to do is figure out how to make it spill over into the rest of the world!

  • He is, after all, a rather obscure(d) figure, and
    I've only seen him selectively (very selectively) quoted in Libertarian evangelistic literature.

    I suppose the fact that he was a libertarian socialist (dirty word!) will tick off a few people on /. -- he exposes property (both physical and intellectual) as government-granted monopoly, rather than an indivudal, fundamental, undebatable right.
  • >>There is a difference between VOLUNTARILY sharing ideas and being FORCED to share ideas.


    I am against intellectual property. That does not mean that I want to force others to disclose all that they know. However, when somebody has *voluntarily* shared information (be it a book, software, whatever) to me, I do not believe he has the right to restrict what I can do with that information. That is, he should not *force* me to keep the information from my friends, or *force* me not to make a copy or two.

    There is force involved in property, and it is usually on the behalf of the owner, if not directly by the owner. In most cases, it is the squatters who are "defending."
  • Stood for the "Union" of "Soviet" "Socialist" "Republics."

    The USSR was as much socialist as it was a republic. As a matter of fact, a few years after Lenin took power, he forcibly abolished all of the socialist associations (like worker-controlled factories) that had developed during the revolution(s).

    Statist socialism is a misnomer. It still retains the distinction between "non-using owners" and "non-owning users" that exists in capitalism. Under capitalism, the tribute that users pay to owners is called "rent," "interest," or "profit." Under state socialism, all of these are rolled up into "taxes." This is why I usually refer to soviet-style systems as "state-monopoly capitalism."
  • Why should I work my ass off to make a living when my landlord (who is too lazy to get a job) takes a far larger percentage of that?

    I have no problem paying money to productive (or disabled) people, but people who sit at home and leach off the tenants are another story.

    Capitalism appealed to me as a testosterone-soaked teenage boy, but I soon grew out of it.
  • ...I have long felt the same way. People raised a huge stink when Eric Allman wanted to - OHMIGOSH!!! have people pay for Sendmail!!! I'm so tired of all of the Socialistic/Communistic crap that is spewed concerning giving EVERYTHING away and treating those that don't with a large amount of disdain. We're all individuals. If you want to give something away for free that you created, excellent. That is incredibly noble and selfless, but don't get down on people who want a some monetary compensation for their efforts. By the way, I'm not at all a fan of how M$ does business as well, so don't even go there.


    "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds." - Albert Einstein
  • Damn right!

    This actually reminds me of a Bill Gates quote:

    "If Microsoft is to fail, let it be because we failed to innovate, not because our innovations were outlawed."
  • The biggest problem with patents is that they don't allow for the concept of independent creation. This happens a lot more than people might think. It happened with the Calculus, developed by both Newton and Leibnitz without any exchanges between them (the matter of who was the first to devise it was later disputed by them). The precise details may vary from one person to the next, but it's almost as if ideas have a life of their own. That the wheel would never have been invented because of the death of a particular ancient does not strike me as a believable scenario. While I think credit should be given wherever credit is due (and none taken where it's not), there truly should not be a monopoly on ideas. People should be free to realise their ideas without restriction.
  • does the benefit of slavery only benefited a few or did the impact of it affect the entire economy of the south? if the latter is true, doesn't that increase the effect beyond a few? i'm not disagreeing. just looking for a clarification.
  • we prefer the short direct route.

    "IP sucks and stuff." works well.
  • Why do so many people believe that IP is some right that exists in Nature? The framers of the US Constitution knew this, that is why IP is in there to promote social good. When it ceases to promote social good it should be revised, restricted, or eliminated. The US courts have fallen into the exact trap pointed out in this editorial. As a conservative/libertarian, I'm remiss to state that this is mostly the result of Republican-appointed judges who fail to make these distinctions.

    I think it is perfectly reasonable for Monsanto to receive compensation for their research -- that is why genetically-engineered material should be copyrighted for a short period (say five years to ten years). In fact, seeds have one of the the best watermarking systems available! What the lawyers need to figure out is what constitutes a work and what is fair use.

    Patents simply do not benefit the social good of more and better software production. It doesn't benefit hardware production uniformly, either. Why not recognize the purpose of patents and then adapt them to the technology that they are meant to protect?
  • You own 'em until you open that big mouth and blurt it out. Also, if I independently have the same thought, I ought to have as much right to it as you
  • > It should also be noted that as many people didn't believe blacks to be fully human, they
    > didn't really count as population (except for the purposes of determing the number of
    > congressional Representatives).

    Amazing how distortions can propagate. You could say the same thing about women during this point
    in US history. Get your facts before making generalizations. The pop-count was a very
    political issue at the time. Very similar to Y2K taking a statistical census or a physical count.
    People have many motivations both ways. Some motivations could be considered racist, some could
    be considered revisionist...

    > In my opinion, the current intellectual "property" scheme benefits almost no-one. People
    > simply do not realise what freedoms are lost because they've never experienced anything else.
    > Since lost of intellectual freedom is not nearly as severe as the more common losses of property,
    > the right to own property, or of one's personal freedom to be (prison/execution), the effects are
    > far more subtle and it's much more difficult to get people to think outside of the box of what a
    > world without IP walls could be like (no offence intended towards a common protocol in use on
    > internets).

    The world is not as B/W as you make it out. How many people own real property (that's not morgaged
    to the bank)? How many people own IP (that's not assigned to the company they work for)? Are not
    many banks and companies "public" companies?

    In fact, most people make a big deal out of "property" when in fact the govt or the public
    pretty much own everything. It only seems bad when you are only a small part of the owning entity.
  • 1. If everything that could be sold is property, the football ticket which gives you the
    opportunity to sit in a chair is property. Interesting philosophy, things that expire after
    3 hours can be considered property. I'd call that a license or a contract (in strict legal terms).
    In fact, they can kick you out of a football game by simply refunding your money.

    2. My guess is the harm that silly SW patents do is negligible, but if you are willing to
    provide evidence of the contrary, I'll be happy to look at it. Most of the stuff floating on the
    net about "harm" is no more than urban legend. Silly patents are rarely enforced and when they
    are enforced only serve to push people to make more innovative products. The "real" patents
    are cross licensed so much that your head would spin.

    As for remaking IP laws, I favor an additional tax on copyright/patent royalty income (15%-20%) range
    with a healthy $1M deduction. This would encourage people to cross-license patents and
    copyrights w/o punishing the small guys.
  • 1. Semantic arguments bore me. No sense in defining the word "property", it is an axiom which
    could get debated forever. Contracts are not rights, they are agreements that have termination
    clauses (if there are no termination clauses, it is by definition not a legal contract). Most
    people associate a right with a thing that has no termination clause (1st amendment, etc)...
    but then again, that is also a semantic definition of a "right"... why is this sounding like "point"
    and "line" and "parallel postulate"...

    2. Fear of being sued is a common excuse for everyone who doesn't want to take a chance.
    Note: you cannot be liable for incorporating a patented instrument into something you make under
    fair use.

    For example, I could write a program that violated everyone of microsoft's patents as a "test
    program" for a class. If I posted the source code for this "test program" on the internet, I violate
    no laws. I sell it to people who don't use the software, I violate no laws. Only if I sell it to
    Fred who has the intent of using it, then both Fred and I are liable as soon as he uses the
    software (if he never actually uses it, no problem).

    However the action is civil and the remedys are also civil (i.e., money). Microsoft can make me
    stop selling it to Fred and other Fred-like people. Microsoft can collect economic damage.
    Microsoft cannot send me to jail. In fact, Microsoft cannot punish me in any way if I win
    the civil case or I stop selling and pay economic damage. Economic damage is how much money they
    lost because of Fred. There are strict limits on economic damage and punitive damage can only be
    a fraction of the economic damage.

    In fact I don't even have to pay microsoft. My company can delcare bankrupcy and microsoft can
    get squat. There are no debtor prisons in the US. Only if you go into business against the patent
    holder can they really do anything to you at all. If microsoft sued me for patent infringement on
    SW that I was giving away, I wouldn't even hire a lawyer. I'd show up, represent myself, and move
    for a summary judgment so they couldn't talk the judge into something horrible.

    If you are writing free SW, patents shouldn't concern you at all. Only people who want to sell
    ideas patented by others should be concerned. If you're out to make a buck, be careful.

    People who don't know their rights are doing themselves a big dis-service. Maybe a miranda
    warning should be required for civil actions.

    3. Patent royalty is often only granted for small parts of products. Let's say a widget sells for
    $1 and costs 80c to make. My inventions is worth 5% of the value of the widget. I collect 1cent
    in royalties. $1M bucks royaties is 100M widgets. This also illustrates how limited economic
    damage is in patent infringement suits.

    That's why unless you are a direct competitor, most companies would rather settle and cross-license
    a patent than mess with the civil-legal system.

    Most companies ignore patents, and try to come up with their own patents. When sued, they cross-
    license patents. This is usually a non-issue.

    Borrowing from the SAT... Patents are to companies like...

    a. praise to hackers
    b. pain to masochists
    c. suffering to sadists
    d. all of the above

  • 1. no response desired.

    2. The owners of foo and bar would have to prove that they would buy their stuff instead of
    downloading your free stuff. This would be pretty tough to prove if your stuff was free and they
    charged money (unless you were getting some stuff on the side). You are off the hook, but the
    people who downloaded it, well they might have some legal trouble if the foo and bar owners
    decided to go after them. This is just one of the reasons big corporations don't like free sw.

    BTW: I didn't say they wouldn't win, they would probably win the patent suit against you. They
    just couldn't collect any money from you (well maybe $3 or so...). Not worth their time.

    3. Tax is on earnings. Gov't doesn't set royalty rate, just taxes whatever you and the other
    company agree on. This is a strong incentive to agree to flat rate $1M buyouts and cross-licenses
    instead of micropennies. People who contribute get to share in the patent pool. People who don't
    contribute are left out (a perfectly capitalistic way of looking at things)...
  • Somehow I doubt research and invention have speeded up. If this were actually the case, who
    would need those patents that people are complaining about, they would be obsolete.

    Copyright, as many people mentioned, doesn't protect ideas, only the expression of ideas and
    derivative works. If research and invention were so fast, who would care? Just rewrite the
    code using the latest technique. Well maybe that code was worth something after all... ;^)

    I think it is precisely that the stituation today is about the same as in the past when they came up
    with all this stuff is the thing that most annoys people who want to change everything.

    Remember 17 was chosen to be about a generation in "people" time. The founding-fathers really
    disliked this "pass-it-to-your-kids" stuff, but thought you should be able to take advantage of
    it while you were alive. If we are all living longer, shouldn't it be longer too? You should
    think carefully before you advocate a change in this number.

    BTW, IMHO, I think 15 years is about the right number (people retire earlier these days), the
    WTO thinks 20 is better. 6 of one, 1/2 dozen of the other...

    Note: I'm not saying there aren't bad patents (there certainly are). Maybe the proper response
    is to form an ACLU like org to fight them (that's how bad laws are fought). My guess is that the
    industry is too greedy to fund such an org.
  • Brief and to the point. Definitely worth a read.
  • If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

    If it is broke, figure out why before fixing it.
  • As of the TRIPS and Paris agreements, I think all patent stuff was made the same between countries.

    In the US if you didn't get anything from selling, you are covered (no economic damage). The guy who
    got it for free, however, might have to pay.

    In the US, the user of the patent pays, intermediate parties don't pay. The reason you
    are protected if you don't charge for your SW is that the user didn't pay you.

    Any problems you (as a seller) have are related to the UCC (uniform commercial code) and the implied
    T&Cs (terms and conditions). If you don't explicitly state in your sales order T&Cs that
    your fee doesn't include royalties for patents, you have implicitly collected royalties from your
    customer. If you don't forward those royalties to the patent holders, they can sue you for the money.

    Example: you go to the store and buy a toaster with cash. You give them the cash, they give you
    the toaster. Under the law, you just completed a transaction subject to the T&Cs of the local UCC.
    The UCC gives both the seller and the buyer certain "standard" rights that people have come
    to expect. One of them is that you get to use the toaster with its intended use w/o paying Fred
    2 cents royalty for using his "uniform browning toast coils" everytime you want to make toast.
    Under the law, you as the toaster owner can claim that you paid the royalties to the seller and Fred
    has to sue the seller for his 2 cents. If, however, the seller gave you the toaster for free
    (as in free beer) you could be liable for the 2 cents if the seller didn't pay Fred the 2 cents.

    The TRIPS agreement doesn't apply to the UCC which is usually slightly different from state to state
    in the US, but close enough. In the EU, I don't know how the UCC implied T&Cs look like, but my
    guess is that on this matter they are the same.

    I could be wrong though, I hear TV and Radio usage taxes are common in the EU which would imply
    that the local UCC T&Cs are quite different.

  • by slew ( 2918 ) on Tuesday March 23, 1999 @08:00AM (#1967238)
    Once again, somebody has decided to spread the rumor that patents and copyrights imply property
    when in fact exactly the opposite is true (at least in the US).

    In the US, if you apply for a patent on something, you explicitly are donating it to the public
    domain. Yes you read that correctly, the public domain. The catch is that the US govt (the keeper
    of the public domain) pays you for your largesse by granting you exclusive use of your invention
    for 17 years. After that time, your idea is truly in the public domain. Nobody can reclaim that
    idea into private property.

    Students of history will recall that the patent and copyright protection was not originally in
    the US constitution, they were added because of a perceived flaw in the legal system (which was
    pretty much borrowed from england) where people could pretty much own ideas forever.

    In fact the US can be proud in being one of the first modern states to engage in government
    sponsored industrial espionage when they stole the plans for a assembly line from a company in
    England around the US revolutionary times (1700s).

    It was in this spirit that the original patent and copyrights idea was born. The philosophy is that
    everything belongs in the public domain (eventually) and short time exclusivity is the way
    they thought of to get people who come up with ideas compensated. Otherwise it was thought that
    people would keep their ideas hidden where they do nothing to advance society.

    WAKE UP!!! all you people who say "only if we had a way to leave everything in the public domain
    while compensating people for their ideas"... WE ALREADY HAVE SUCH A SYSTEM!!!

    You may argue with 17 years or 20 years (or whatever) is too long a time, but you guys are 250
    years too late. Can't you admit that somebody already came up with a pretty good system? or does
    your youthful ignorance get in the way???

    Even the hallowed GPL code will eventually fall into the public domain (copyrights expire 75 years
    after the authors death). After that nobody will be able to enforce the GPL/NPL/APL/XPL/etc/etc
    provisions... My decendents will be able to copy all the code into a private bundle and never
    have to distribute any source code ;^)
  • Nigri Wrote:
    The farmers who bought that seed signed a contract with Monstanto agreeing not to save any seed corn. They did this for the economic advantage of not having to worry about where they spray their noxious chemicals around. The fact that they'd like to break that contract should earn them no sympathy from anyone. If they had refrused en masse to sign that contract, Monsanto would have had to find another way to sell that seed.

    That's right. Roundup Ready seeds are genetically engineered to handle mass saturation of Roundup pesticide. This is dangerous to our groundwater and food supply.

    Monsanto plans to soon release Roundup Ready seeds with terminator genes which will prevent second generation seeds from germinating. Many environmentalists and geneticists have stated concerns that such terminator genes could be passed into the general crop population via pollen and potentially kill off our original crops leaving only corporate produced seeds available to farmers. Such a move is insanity if we consider survival a worthy goal for humanity.

    It's one thing to support intellectual property laws for books and other creations. But to interpret IP laws in such a way that allows such basic survival needs as our food supply to fall in the hands of only a few corporations is asking for human extinction. We will go the way of the dinasours like this, or at the very least risk losing critical crops by genetic blunder.

    I note that the European Union is fighting United States through the Word Trade Organization demanding that the EU stop labeling genetically engineered foods as such. In other words the United States is demanding that Europe ban labeling their food supply (which they consider a national health concern). Europe doesn't want to ban the sale of these foods, just label them like we do with our nutritional content labels. How is that trade restraint? It's not, what it shows is that companies like ADM and Monsanto have our congress and executive branches at their mercy. If this continues soon the worlds peoples will be at their mercy as well.


    Someone previously asked if I prefer food production be monopolized by the government instead of international corporations.

    I respond with:

    a) This is not the case today, nor has it ever been in the US. Most food prduction used to be handled by small farmers, this changed over the eighties as banks over-lent to indivudal farms and then collected the land from all the mortgage defaults during Paul Volker's (former head of the Federal Reserve board, see: "Secrets of the Temple," by William Greider) planned 'recession.' Guess who wound up with all that land? It wasn't other small time farmers.

    b) Even if the government did nationalize all the farming land (which would be patently unconstitutional) at least we would have some power via our voting rights. All those idiots claiming the private sector provides better efficiency and more freedom forget that we citizens have _no say_ over how private industry manages these properties.

    I'm not advocating communism, just pointing out that the private sector gives citizens far less freedoms than what is constitutionally protected by our government. The only people with power in the private sector are large scale corporate share holders, and they're such a nice small club, now aren't they?

    Let them eat cake my ass... if this continues we may have no more grain producing crops left. What happens then?
  • mcelrath wrote:
    And the government monopoly currently controlling our food supply is any better? Are you arguing against monopoly (which doesn't make sense -- government) or corporate food production (which also doesn't make sense...unless you want to live in a communist state).

    I respond to this at the tail end of my comment Such a contract undermines our food supply. I look forward to your response.
  • DuaneGriffin wrote:
    Quickly, one problem is that even if only one generation of neighbouring crops is killed off because of 'infection', the farmer that owns them is still going to be mighty pissed. If it happens every year then they need to buy from Monsanto or go broke (and any suggestions that they can rely on the legal system for protection or redress are hereby laughed at in advance).

    Excellent response. I wanted to make a similar statement but I was at work and got distracted by my responsibilities.

    Basically it comes down to this: while by definition one can't create a fitness function for a system which won't self replicate, this doesn't mean that in the first iteration of that function it can't do something damaging. For example, consider the influenza epidemic of 1918, which killed a good 1% of the worlds population. Within a few months this flu killed all the susceptible people and died off, but it still killed a whole bunch of people.

    In the same way if the Terminator Gene, in say soy, becomes airborne in pollen and germinates seeds from a standard soy crop growing in another farm, the result may not be a stable subspecies of soy but it would still prevent that neighboring farmer from reusing his/her "legally" produced seeds.

    Suppose you lived in a third world country and all your next seasons seeds died off because a neighbor decided to grow Roundup Ready soy with the Terminator Gene; you would have no actionable recourse. Do you honestly think this farmer would be able to sue a company thousands of miles away situatated in another country (which seems hell bent on providing as many advantages to it's corporate campaign financers as possible)?

    No, you would be fucked.

    Finally, does anyone here think it makes sense to be copywriting genes produced by accident (or God if you like) from one species and then implanting those genes in another species and copywriting that new subspecies??? I understand the concept of patenting a process (such as a new transgenetic technique), but for our government to allow copywriting something which is available in the ambiant environment is bad policy.

    Never mind the fact that for almost any of these species we haven't transcribed its genome. We have no idea what the long term consequences of introducing these new subspecies will be in our environment. We have no idea how they even work. We are fucking with life without even the slightest idea what might happen... bad policy.

    Luddite my ass... I live for cool technology, but I don't like the idea of potentially trashing the worlds food supply, in what amounts to a huge experiment in transgenetics, without any public or scientific peer review.
  • Should Monsanto (and other Agri business and genetic engineering firms) be allowed to own genes as intellectual property? Monsanto calls saving seed from Roundup Ready(tm) crops and replanting in the next season "Seed Piracy." (*) Do you want a corporate monoploy controlling our food supply?

    This is not just about software, the intellectual property laws are so broken that we're about to hand over something as critical to our survival as food production to huge international agri-businesses like ADM and Monsanto without even thinking of the long term consequences to our survival. This could get BAD....

    * See April '99 issue of Harpers for an important article on this issue.
  • You are never forced to give away anything you develop. However, if you take someone else's sources and modify them, you must comply with their terms, which may require giving away your changes to *their* code.
  • Your statement that the RoundupReady (tm) crops are leading to an increased application of this herbicide (and therefore increasing the risk to groundwater supplies, etc.) is completely wrong. In fact, the major advantage of the RoundupReady line of crops is that it allows the farmer to apply the herbicide very early in the crop cycle and directly to the area where the seedling is growing. This leads to less herbicide being applied and less need to till the soil between crop rows so that less wind erosion is an added benefit. The entire selling point of this particular germline is that it allows the farmer to use less herbicide. This is a big cost savings to the farmer. Your statement about the supposed danger of the terminator technology which causes GM seeds to produce plants whose seed are sterile would be quite laughable if it were not the case that these luddite fears are in danger of threatening research and development of other useful GM technology. Here is the most simple and direct refutation of this claim that plants with terminator genes will cause the rest of the food supply to disappear: it is a non-stable system in evolutionary terms; it is not self-sustaining because the terminator line is by definition one which cannot perpetuate itself. The termiator genes could not "infect" the original plant stock because when it comes down to measuring the fitness of the germline in that age-old dance of reproduction the terminator pollen automatically loses. The only way that it can spread into the general genetic mix is if mutation turns off the terminator part of the genetic modification.
  • Frankly, I prefer writing like that to a lot of modern stuff where you have to plow through loads of fluf to get to the point. You can accuse some philosophical texts of being written in a difficult-to-read way, but this wasn't one of them.
  • I think what Tucker clearly demonstrates is that ideas are not like physical things. That being the case, we should not base our laws regarding ideas and such on analogy with laws about ownership of physical things. It may be that some form of copyright/patent etc. is justified by utilitarian arguments of the type we've seen like encouraging invention, but they can't be justified by saying that an idea is like a car. We have to weigh the benefits of accelerated innovation stemming from IP law against the benefits of wider spread use and lower prices of innovations which would come from abolishing IP law. The later is usally missing from the arguments in favor of IP law. I'm not sure where I come down on this yet.

    Also, eliminating IP would not force anyone to reveal anything that they want to keep private. If you want to keep your source code a secret and release only binaries, you can. What you lose is the legal right to prevent people from copying the software and possibly reseling it. Though I suppose you could use license agreements: "I will sell you this if you agree ... ".

    And I think the article was very well written, people just no longer appreciate good writing.
  • Less things patentable (software algorithms).

    Include discovered genes in there. If some one creates a strand of DNA that doesn't exist in nature they can patent it. If they come up with a process for isolating and sequencing genes, they can patent it. But, they should not be able to patent naturally occuring genes.

    Genes are a natural resource. For example bauxite is the ore that aluminum is extracted from. If we apply the same rules to this that are applied to gene patents, aluminum would be patentable because it took research to discover that aluminum in the rock.

    Well, genes are extracted form human and animal cells. Just like the aluminum is extracted form the bauxite. So, genes should not be patentable since they are a natural resource.

  • Leave nuclear power out. There is so much knee jerk reaction to anything nuclear that the facts can't be separated form the fiction.
  • After all, many struggling farmers and widows and orphans depended upon slavery for their daily bread.

    You have a very shaky understanding of American history. Slavery benefited a tiny minority of the population (at least in the South), while the 80% or so who didn't own any slaves ended up doing the bulk of the fighting (and dying) in the Civil War to defend the institution.

    This adds even more credibility to your argument, though--if copyright slavery only benefits a very few (and, indeed, it does--for example, there are but 5 major record companies today, and they each insist on owning the copyrights of their artists' work), then it should be abolished in the name of equality.

  • The problem with nearly every debate on intellectual property rights is the same -- people are working from different basic assumptions. And, when boiled own to the essence, there is a grid of two sets of two basic assumptions -- the axis of property is theft vs. property is a natural right, and the axis of principle trumps practice and practice trumps principle.

    RMS/FSF/GNU is a shining example of a group that, at the bottom (albeit maybe not conciously) holds both that property is theft and that practice thiumphs principle. If the only reason for the existence of physical property is only that multiple people cannot simultaneously have the same object, then you are denying that anyone has a *right* to property. Property is simply a social construct that assigns control to an individual enen though everyone has an equal _right_ to posession of the item.

    Now, that means that RMS and ESR have the same basic view, as does a socialist who has decied that socialism is impractical and *supports* intellectual property on practical grounds. They all agree a *right* doesn't exist, and property is only a social construct for purely practical ends. Their fights are the same as fights between Anglicans, Lutherans, Catholics, and the Greek Orthodox -- of no real interest to outsiders, except as they may affect the outside world. This is essentially the mixed economy position of the American left.

    A second position is that of the Lockeans (and their derivatives), who hold that property is the natural right of the person who applies labor to the unowned. This view naturally leads to the acceptance of intellectual property, since it is purely the product of [mental] labor. This position calls property a right and puts principle above practice -- property might lead to all sorts of undesireable consequences, but it's less important than protecting the principle. This is the unmixed capitalism of the American far right/libertarians.

    The third position accepts the principle that property is theft, and puts principle above practicality. They are communists and socialists.

    The fourth accepts the principle that property is a right, but puts practice over principle. These are the mixed economy advocates on the American Right.

    Let me be blunt. I prefer the Communists to either variety of the mixed economy advocates, and the libertarians to the Communists. Give me an honest socialist who defends principle. At least they won't cheer a tyrant because he "gets things done."
  • Although I agree with this article, I have to say that there is a case for intellectual property which I find it hard to deny.

    Given that most things are scarce and our world relies on an economic system that assumes scarcity, how do we encourage people to have ideas if they cannot profit from them by making them artificially scarce ?

  • I am continually amazed at some people's inability to distinguish between copyright and patent.

    Copyright protects an expression of ideas. It doesn't protect the ideas themselves. Why do you think it's perfectly legitimate for you to quote from a book without paying the author? Why do you think it's perfectly all right for you to appropriate the ideas expressed in a book as your own? Because copyright doesn't protect ideas. It protects expression: written words.

    On the other hand, it is illegitimate for you to appropriate someone else's words as your own. That's plagiarism. It's cheating, and if you try to sell them, it's a crime.

    Copyright is what makes the GPL work: the author of code has a right to dictate the terms under which his code is used by others (if he releases it at all). If RMS is actually opposed to the legitimacy of copyright (and I don't know, but I surely hope he isn't) then he is one of the greatest hypocrites alive today. He would then be guilty of using something he abhors (and something he wants to eradicate) as a tool for advancing his cause. It would be like an anti-gun zealot using an Uzi to get rid of all those 2nd Amendment "fanatics".

    Copyright is what makes the GPL different from public domain. Things in the public domain are free for anyone to use in any way they choose, including taking code proprietary.

    Copyright is legitimate. Patents are different because they restrict the use of ideas -- and I fully agree that this is silly. But copyright is a different story. Someone somewhere invested their energy in producing a tangible thing: their book/code/whatever. It is theirs, and they have a right to do with their property what they wish.

    Finally, let me say that the premise of the article is incorrect. Private property is legitimate because God owns everything, and he extends to us the right to own things as stewards -- as his representatives. There is nothing whatever immoral about the idea of private property; people may do bad things with their stuff, but that's a separate question.

  • ...and therefore the author has a right to expect compensation.

    The time spent developing intellectual property does not have zero value. It can be spent in other ways; the fact that time may be spent in an activity that earns one money more than adequately demonstrates that there are costs involved in developing any idea, or in developing software, or in writing a book. The cost of writing the code is the value of the opportunities that you forgo in order to write the code. If I write free software in my spare time rather than taking a second job (or working even more on my main job), then the cost to me of the code I write is the money I lost by not working at a job.

    There are costs associated with producing this stuff, folks. For anyone to say that, after bearing these costs to produce my code, I am now obligated to my code away, is denying me the right to be compensated for my time and effort.

    It is a lie that there are no costs associated with producing Intellectual Property. And as a result, it is irresponsible and illegitimate for anyone to deny the producers of IP the right to be compensated for those costs in ways that they choose. The natural (and inevitable) consequence of doing so will be that ideas will dry up as people keep their stuff to themselves.

  • The so-called "new economy", which supposedly rewards the creation of good content while minimizing the cost of delivering the content (towards zero eventually), the only way people are going to be able to make a buck is to have some sort of IP protection.

    Unless you can propose some radical economic system that drives the cost of production and distribution towards zero, rewards content creators, and yet somehow offers no protection for IP, then please enlighten us. Oh, and please don't offer any ideas where I am required to live on some "standardized income" that does not differentiate between varying demands in society.
  • Point two: The guarantee that the inventor will be able to get a return on investment. This is completely silly. Lawmakers are not responsible for making sure you succeed.

    The purpose of law is to prevent someone from harming me (for arbitrary values of "me"). If I spend a year of effort to produce a product, and somebody who has spent no effort either leeches the source or cracks the binary and distributes it, then they have most certainly harmed me by cutting off my rightful compensation for my efforts. It is most certainly within the purpose of the law to prevent this.

    Independent invention? Well, for an algorithm complex enough to be non-obvious, or for code that implements an algorithm or application, the Perl rule applies - There's More Than One Way To Do It. Somebody wanting to accomplish the same goal can _do_ so by other, equally good, methods. They don't have to copy my work and leave me starving on the street and owing large amouns of money to investors. Might they accidentally use the same approach that I did? For something sufficiently complex, that's not likely, but as long as they do their _research_ first, it's a non-issue. They can see what approach I used in the patents, and make sure that they use another.

    Now, patenting the obvious. I agree that this is a problem and that this is wrong. However, this is a problem with the patent office, not with patents. Consider carefully who to chew out and for what.

  • It's interesting that these ideas have been debated for this long. Everything old is new.

    As our technological prowess increases, the cost of manufacturing drops.

    We have witnessed a revolution in the publishing industry in the past 10-20 years. Now, you can copy practically any printed work to practically any level of quality relatively cheaply. The same thing has happened for music, and we're beginning to see it happen for more complex manufacturing. We already have a 3D 'fax' that uses a polymer liquid and curing lasers to build up 3D objects from pure information.

    Soon, the biggest cost in creating anything will be researching the idea. Property laws will begin to become obsolete because if your neighbor has something, you can cheaply make your own copy of it.

    What is the role of IP law in such an environment? How can innovation be encouraged? The real goal of IP law has never been to assure some inalienable right, but to foster innovation. IP law can be measured not by how well it protects a person's intellectual 'property', but by how well it encourages the creation of new and useful ideas.

    Do patents and copyrights do this effectively? It seems, from the existence of the GPL and the Open Source movement that our current IP laws don't seem to be helping that much.

    Someone rightly pointed out that the GPL is an excersize of the current IP laws. That belies the fact that it twists those laws to purposes that I'm sure their creators never envisioned. Instead of using the monopoly they grant, the liscense refuses that monopoly, and denies it to all others. The success of this liscense, and the obvious innovation apparent in the community of people who abide by it are an indication that perhaps our current IP laws aren't serving the purpose for which they were intended.

    There are a lot of questions to be answered here, and they need answering soon. Soon IP will be the only kind of property that has any real value.

  • 1. Patents are property, admittedly for a limited time but still property. Why? Because they can be sold and that makes them, in my book, property. If you disagree with this it would be nice if you'd define "property".

    2. For the software business completely and utterly silly things are patented, its laughable... The basic idea is not completely without merit but for the software industry is does much harm. I consider the object of any "industry" to be "making life better for people" (By creating good, cheap products).

    IP laws should not be abolished, they should be remedied.


    Has it ever occurred to you that God might be a committee?
  • As for your arguments for capitalism vs socialism - are you BLIND!? You claim that socialism is bad because overall it tries to do what's best for society and screw the individual--as if capitalism doesn't cause at *least* as much harm to individuals...

    The only reason socialism is wrong is because it condones one organisation (the state) bereaving everyone else (the people) of their property and then redistributing it as certain people in the state feel is `fair'. That is wrong--there is a fundamental right to property (as in physical proprety, like lands, houses, cards, food, your own person, &c.)

    Capitalism by itself is worthless. Capitalism paired with a society that believes in conducting business fairly and honestly, performing good deeds for the less advantage, and not violating other's right to life and property works very well. But capitalism without ethics (or morality, if you want to call it that) is good for nothing--it's anarchy (and let's please not start talking about that).

    Just remember: did your mother attend to your every need for the first year or so of your life because of a hope of making profit or because of pure love for a helpless infant?

  • by jerodd ( 13818 ) on Tuesday March 23, 1999 @05:25AM (#1967350) Homepage
    When I was in Virginia two months ago I was reading the book the ABA publishes which is IIRC called ``The Foundations of our Heritage''. It has reams of legal documents from the Magna Carta to the Consitution to various papers by John Locke, Blackstone, &c. I remember reading an excerpt from a writing of either Locke or Blackstone--I do not remember which--where he spoke against what some in England were trying to with regard to the then-fledgling copyright law. The basic argument for copyright (and especially long, as in 100-year, copyright duration) was that many orphans and widows had no source of income other than copyright licencing fees.

    While that's certainly a noble reason, it doesn't apply today. While many argue that reforming intellectual ``proprety'' law would result in too much upheaval in society, did not eliminating slavery result in the same upheaval? After all, many struggling farmers and widows and orphans depended upon slavery for their daily bread.


  • (unless there is in an infrastructure IN PLACE to ensure the compensation of creators WHILE allowing freedom to copy)

    Consider mathematics. Mathematics has been pressing forward consistently without restricting the copying of mathematical ideas. The creators, most often professors or grad students, are compensated, but not through the restriction of their ideas. There is some financial motivation (a good dissertation will get you a good position, for example) but the primary motivation is usually curiosity, with reputation as a secondary incentive.

    If the world of mathematics were infiltrated with the philosophy of restricting the use of one's ideas, mathematics would stagnate. Mathematical progress is accelerated by the lack of restriction within the community, while the lack of strong restriction-oriented incentives does not seem to be a drawback.

    So why does anyone pay mathematicians to sit around, think, and essentially give away their work? A strictly capitalist philosophy can't explain it well, but the benefits to the world are unquestionable. How much of your favorite technology would have been possible without the contributions that the mathematical community has made? We should keep that in mind before crediting the patent system of incentives for all of our technology.
  • Seems to me that software represents perfectly the hypothetical unlimited use concrete item

    I can make unlimited copies of it and have taken absolutely nothing from the source. A theoretically unlimited number of people can use it concurrently in a (theoretically) unlimited number of places

    The conclusion (if we accept the article's assumptions) is that it is absurd to consider software in any way, shape or form intellectual property, because the restrictions on "use" are completely artificial.

  • The problem with IP, as I see it, is the inherent reduction of physical property rights in order to enforce it. You are only free to use your physical property in ways that don't infringe on my intellectual property, even though you cause no harm to me, or anyone else. Arguments for physical property as a natural right are much stronger than those for IP (as pointed out before, the framers of the U.S. constitution rejected IP as a natural right). So I would propose the idea that some rights are stronger than others. E.g., it's not justifiable to shoot someone who's stealing your TV, unless they threaten your life, or the life of someone else. So in that case, your right to own and defend your property is superceded by the right of the would-be theif to live.

    If you'll buy that for a quarter, consider this: The argument that IP helps promote progress in science and technology is a rather weak end-justifies-the-means sort of a thing. Allowing pharmaceutical companies to kidnap the homeless or welfare recipients to use in drug trials and experiments would no doubt advance medical technology, but we're not going to do that, are we?

    Instead of extending copyright one year per year (on average), congress should continually reduce its duration and strength until a serious reduction in content creation and innovation is seen (the creativity and innovation made possibly by the reduction (when works go out of copyright/patents expire other authors/inventors can springboard off the older works) should be taken into account as well).

  • Give me a freaking break!!! If I spend my free time developing a product, or idea, that others want, I should damn well be able to charge them a compensatory fee. Similarly, if I am the philanthropic type who wants to give away my product/idea, that should also be my right. But, the first time someone tries to TAKE something I have developed myself, WITHOUT my permission, that person will find themselves with a boot up their ass!

    You can probably tell that I have mixed feelings about the open source fanatics. Why should I be forced to give away not only the binaries for an application I develop, but also the source code? I thought one of the strongest motivations for all the Linux hackers out there is, if you can't find it, write it. Well, if you don't like having to pay a nominal fee for something someone else wrote, fine. Go write a similar app yourself. Don't hassle the guy who wants to make a buck off his work.

    Should artists be forced to give away their paintings? No. Should authors have to give you a copy of their books? No. Should a farmer have to give you his produce? No. These are all socialistic concepts. What's good for society as a whole is the rule, and if it hurts one person, so what.

    No thanks. Capitalism is just fine by me. Free market enterprise and competetion will keep prices reasonable (which is the argument against monopolization of an industry), so you'll always be able to pick up, say, a C++ book and learn how to beat the "evil, money-making corporations".

    (Just so you know, I'm NOT a fan of Bill Gates/Microsloth)
  • This post, like many of the other posts on this topic seem (to me) to miss an important point. Specifically, they all start by assuming that there is an inherent right to intellectual property. They then argue that the framers of the Constitution were correct to preserve this human right for us. This is like assuming the existence of God to prove that God is a benevolent god.

    The point (and I suppose that I may misunderstand it) of the original poster is that there is no such thing as intellectual property. This is because "ideas" or expressions of those ideas can be copied without real damage to the originator of the idea. (despite the fiction perpetrated by the record companies and IP lawyers). As RMS points out, the patent monopoly is granted to inventors in order to encourage invention for the good of society, not for the good of the inventor.

    When tomjanofsky (and many others) say that "people are more likely to create inventions if afforded protections for their intellectual property rights" (paraphrasing, my apologies) they are assuming that the inventors have intellectual property rights to be protected. This assumption is not justified. They are granted, by society, a privilege. The rights that they do have include the right to chose whether or not to share their invention.

    An additional argument against the notion of IP "rights" is the fact that patents expire. If one has the "right" to control how people use one's idea, how can the government take that right away. Rights are an inherent part of being human. They are not for the government to grant or take away. The Bill Of Rights (for example) does not grant rights to citizens. What it does is specify a (non-exclusive) list of rights that people already possess and prohibits the government from infringing on those rights.

    By way of disclaimer, I have yet to copyleft anything worthy of the GPL.
  • by Danchez ( 21525 ) <{dan} {at} {dansanchez.org}> on Tuesday March 23, 1999 @06:34AM (#1967433) Homepage
    I don't even know where to start.

    I really hope this is not what the entire /. community thinks like. I always thought people shared thier ideas because they WANTED to not because they HAD to. There is a difference between VOLUNTARILY sharing ideas and being FORCED to share ideas. What a person thinks is his own, and no one elses.

    I am all for Linux and the GPL, but I am also all for someone charging for their work. If you created it then name your price, if I want it then I'll pay.

    And yes if you detect a little of Rand in my reply then you are correct.
  • If this is intended to be a critique of intellectual property, it is severely misaimed. While this is an interesting piece, it is really only making the case for how things already are.

    The article is appropriately titled though, "Why ideas should not be property" - while "ideas" themselves are not considered property under current intellectual property laws.

    IP laws such as copyright and patent do not attempt to reserve the "idea" to the creator, rather they reserve the right for the creator to have certain controls over physical manifestations of that idea (in the case of copyright, read duplication, distribution, derivative works) for some time period. IP applies only to the expression of an idea, not to the idea itself, or any facts underlying that idea.

    We have intellectual property for reasons that are both related to the notion that someone has a certain ownership of something they create (philosophically this has a number of bases - including, but not exclusively Locke) as well as for utilitarian purposes (the US Constitution gives the Congress the right to make IP laws to "further the progress of the arts and sciences"). That is, the people who agreed upon those laws felt that for any number of reasons, including but not limited to profit - people would be more inclined to create intellectual property if there were protections provided for their rights.

    IP laws do not attempt to control the flow of ideas - any law that tried to do such a thing would be foolish - but they do reserve rights concerning the manifestations of those ideas to the creators.

    People here on /. seem to have a misaimed hatred for intellectual property. There is a big difference between the notion of intellectual property - and how particular IP laws are currently implemented. The GPL requires and supports the notion of intellectual property as much as any traditional copyright does - it's key difference lies only in how it views the distribution of the creators rights that come along with that intellectual property. Free software requires the notion of intellectual property.
  • Is it just me, or does anyone else think that it is a little bit deceitful the way this article was presented?

    The *ENTIRE ARTICLE* was written by Tucker, not the slashdotter. I read the disclaimer at the top, which stated "I excerpted the relevant portions."

    Immediately following is a paragraph in block-quote format, in italics, as if it were indicating that that were the quote from Tucker's essay.

    In reality, however, the entire essay as presented was from Tucker's essay.

    I also find it deceptive that at the very top, Rob says, The following was written by slashdotter Kevin S. Van Horn, or whatever his name is (sorry, rushing off to dinner and don't have time to go back and check :).

    Perhaps these two situations (the "the following was written by" and only one paragraph being in block-quote italics) were oversights on Rob's part... but I doubt it :(

    And, after reading so many of the comments (all of them, actually), it is apparent that very few readers recognized that the slashdot contributor wrote zero essay.

    But then again perhaps it is simply a wonderful example of what he thinks of putting your name on someone elses "Intellectual Property".

    Comments and Flames both welcome, but please be polite :)

    James S. Blachly
  • by Rinikusu ( 28164 ) on Tuesday March 23, 1999 @10:17AM (#1967454)
    When man first decided to stick a seed in the ground and nurture it to maturity and then eat the grain that resulted, property rights, both physical (in the ground that he worked and in the produce that his diligent effort produced) and intellectual (the knowledge that he gained from doing so) took a vast turn of departure from his hunter-gatherer past. It was then left up to that man (for the PC crowd, OR WOMAN) to distribute his new found knowledge amongst his peers or to keep it to himself. Fortunately for all of us in the First World who are content to not wallow around in our own filth, but to progress towards an even higher standard of living (and an Audi S4 Quattro), he decided to share his discovery. Millions of ideas and improvements later, we have our modern, Industrial agriculture that is capable of feeding everyone in the world, 5 times over, if they have the cash to carry. :)

    However, it MUST be noted that, regardless of the benefit to himself or to the survival of his family, that man was under absolutely obligation to share his findings. He could attempt to hide them from others, he could have simply walked away and never returned to his new found method (although others would surely discover the principle, as many cultures did indeed "simultaneously" discover and implement agriculture independently of one another).

    What disturbs me is that, besides the marxist crowd, most people would not deny the fact that the man has a right to eat what he has sown. The premise of the Free Software (not necessarily the FSF or any other organization) people is that he did not have the right to withhold his discovery, his knowledge, from others. Now, in the times that agriculture emerged from the receding glaciers of the Pleistocene, he was sure to have been seen by others, and then imitated if he were to prove successful (actually, agriculture was a gradual adaptation process, but that's really beyond the scope of this post). This premise is flawed.

    You have the right to what you produce. Period. If you produce software, using the tools that you've acquired, the knowledge that you've learned and discovered for yourself (learning is not an osmotic process, try sleeping with a K&R under your pillow at night and see for youself), the skills that you've honed through years of diligent practice, it's yours. Period. If you want to give it away, then fine. Do it. If you want to sell it, fine, do it. If you want to erase it from your harddrive forever, no one can stop you. The article wants to pretend that you don't have the right to what's inside your head. Rubbish.

    The Open Source movement is a wonderful example of what can happen when you do like that wonderful man 12000 years ago did: he shared his knowledge and allowed people to take a crack at improving his methods. Some people were merely content to use what was there, others made the effort to improve. This is very much like the Open Source community today.

    Yet, you have to remember, a product of the mind is the same as the product of your hands, as if you could differentiate the two. And if you choose to give away your products, free of monetary attachments, it's your choice. But don't let ANYONE tell you it's not your right.

They are called computers simply because computation is the only significant job that has so far been given to them.