A new look at IP rights

Andy44

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There is currently a debate in libertarian circles about the morality and usefulness of IP.

Prior to the internet age settled law was failry simple and easy to deal with. You could copy an LP record onto a casette tape for personal use, the courts were okay with it, and the record companies were okay because a casette never fully reproduced the fidelity of a vinyl record, so nobody was going to be mass-producing bootleg casettes and selling them in place of records (except in countries where the records were banned).

But when digital technology came along you could make a near-exact copy of a record and reproduce that indefinitely. Then came file-sharing, and suddenly record companies and movie companies felt threatened.

So they did what all guilds do when they don't want to deal with changing market conditions: They lobbied politicians for protection and use government power to enforce their cartel, resulting in the current ugly situation in which a guy gets prosecuted for ripping too many CDs and so forth, which has caused thinkers to re-examine the whole concept of IP.

As a poster above said, if you can memorize a song note for note, you have technically "copied" the song. A song, or a line of software code, or a page of text, or an image, is basically a set of ideas. It's only yours if you keep it to yourself. As soon as you broadcast it you've given it away. How can you then demand the authority to retain control over it?

Or so goes the anti-IP argument. Since an idea isn't something you can physically control, they argue, IP is not a true natural right, like physical property, but rather an artificial right, created by law in an arbitrary manner.

Thus a copyright runs out after, say 30 years for example. Then the law changes, and now it's 50 years. These numbers are pulled out of the air, arbitrarily. If IP were a natural right, there would be a simple, logical way to determine the time limit in this example.

It's a powerful argument, and although I'm not in favor of trashing IP altogether, it's a difficult argument to counter.

It also runs counter to the doctrinaire view of the matron saint of modern libertarian thought, Ayn Rand, who was adamant in her defense of IP rights. She held the classical view of IP as a way of protecting the livliehood of those who create media. Rand was considered part of the "Old Right" before she and her Objectivist followers were purged from the movement by the Neoconservatives under William Buckley; she herself didn't like to be called a libertarian, although she was without a doubt one of the movement's leaders.

It's very easy to dismiss the arguments against IP as the rant of the selfish youth who just wants stuff for free and doesn't want to pay for anything, but that is too easy, and it doesn't address the current situation where corporate lawyers are basically waging a war against their own customers. To get to the root of any such discussion, it pays to re-examine the premises upon which it is based, and that's healthy.
 

Linguofreak

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I'd say that copyright certainly isn't a natural right, but it has been up till the digital age a fairly good and straightforward way of protecting certain natural rights. The biggest problem is the Berne Convention. It dictates a copyright term of at least the life of the author plus 50 years, so most signatories have at least that. I think Berne is really more of a benefit to the publishing industry than to authors, and while authors do have an interest in the "IP" debate, it's publishers that are the ones really throwing alot of time and money into influencing the political debate on the issue.

For comparison, the original US copyright law was 14 years, plus fourteen more *if* the author was still alive and applied for extension (under Berne, the clock doesn't even start ticking till he croaks). If that remained the case, it would have been good up until the digital age took off, but by now might still be a bit too long, especially for software, which tends to have really short "written to obsolete" cycles.

I think that a five year copyright term with five year extension would be good, if not ideal, for software. I have some other ideas that don't involve copyright per-se at all, but I'm up way too late tonight, so I'll discuss them later, if I remember.
 

Artlav

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Getting everyone to acknowledge there is a problem is more important than giving a solution to it right away, because then everyone can think of a solution, not pretend the problem does not exist.

In software the problem is that an algorithm patented, for example, is pretty much algorithm dead - in years it would take for the patent to wear off the thing will be long obsolete. That's the most ridiculous part - rights on ideas, unlike rights on media, which at least make sense since there is an Author and Co who could have spent a lot of money and effort making it.
In software and engineering an idea does not have an author per se, it's usually a naturally fitting solution to a given problem, restricting use of which is basically preventing a problem from being solved.

The best temporary solution i can think of is to keep the system largely as is, but reduce the time limits - 6 months to 2 years tops.
 

Andy44

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The problem is that the same idea can be reached by two different people without knowledge of each other. If I invent a warp drive theory and some guy in California thinks of it at roughly the same time, how can either one of us claim the right to refuse the other the use of his own idea? He used his own brain and creativity same as me, right? Some law that says whoever races to the patent office first wins hardly provides a satisfying explanation.
 

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Copyrights and patents were originally intended to protect the public as well as the creator. The creator (artist, author, inventor, etc) was given exclusive rights for a set period to ensure that they had a chance to make a FAIR profit, but also ensure that the content was released into the public domain after a reasonable period. Walt Disney was one of the first people to push heavily for extensions to the copyright period - That's why Mickey is still fully protected in all ways. By the original copyright rules and terms, he should have been public domain long ago.
 

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There is the more conspiracy-like theory that copyright was originally invented to reduce the danger of book-printing to authorities, and that patent law was invented to let authorities share in the profits of innovation (and that's why you have to pay for them).

I agree that current 'IP'(*) law is more a problem than a solution in the current digital age. I agree with Artlav that patents are 'more evil' than copyright. Of all 'IP' rights, trademarks make most sense to me.

One approach I came up with some time ago was to reduce the scope of 'IP' laws to commercial activities only, and only allow the right holder to receive a certain amount of the profits, but not to impose extra restricting licensing terms.

On a more open-minded approach: what if there were no laws? What would be the moral thing to do? What would be the line between ethical and unethical ways of dealing with other people's creations?

(*) I refuse to use the term 'intellectual property' without quotation marks. It is not like property. And a violation, while it is a violation of the law, is not like theft. I still use 'IP', because of the lack of an alternative term for this group of 'exclusive rights'.
 

Andy44

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During the 19th century books were hard to come by in the American western frontier, and most English-language books were imported by England and thus very expensive. So of course there was a black market of pirate copies spread around the frontier and passed around by folks who otherwise wouldn't known about many of the English authors. Some of them saved up money and bought real copies when they had the chance, so an argument can be made that if the copyright laws were strictly enforced the English publishers would have sold fewer books and had a smaller customer base.

Similar situation today with music, although we have "free" radio as well as file-sharing to spread the word of new music. But broadcast radio doesn't alert people to the more obscure acts out there.

What if there were no laws at all you ask? Well, it would be like the wild west example above. Instead of paying for the music or words or ideas, you'd be paying for the packaging and the service and the performance.

So I am a record company and you could copy my music files for free, but if you want a certified original copy with album cover art and a guarantee that it's virus-free you have to get it from me. And you have to pay to see the band perform live, too.

If I'm a publisher I am selling you a nicely-bound copy of a book, or a service contract for my software certified copy, etc.

Lots of people would refuse to pay for any of that and just download stuff for free, of course. So there'd be a lot of junk all over the place.
 

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For me all those IP thought have a direct and practicall impact: the day one cracked my shareware (they took 3 month not bad ;) ) my sales dropped by 60%, never saw that in my sales curve. In end 2008 we were near bankrupcy.

IP must be tuned of course it's not perfect, unfortunately most peoples simply doesn't have the IQ or the knowledge to do anything intteligent with such discussion appart finding excuses to continue to steal the "big bad company" & "big bad major". In fact they steal whatewer is available on internet without consideration. Big, small, poor, rich.

Now there is commercial abuse of IP it's true, I don't know why I should pay full price for a Beethoven record while the IP right should be non existent.

Fact is that only big company have the power to fight piracy as cost of protection increases. Fact is that IP allow million peoples to live from creation and fact is that every big system have a rendement ratio.

If you put only 30% fuel in your cars you'll not have 100% rendement. If you put 30% in creation or IP the first that will disappear are all the "small" creators.

Don't get me wrong, as every law IP are far to be perfect, but the IP discussion is mainly an excuse for stealing from peoples that understand nothing to creation. I even received mails from peoples arguing about IP and saying that I had no right to sale my 6000 hours of work and live from them.
Funny when only 40% peoples still accept to pay the price of the work on internet.

My concern is the big picture for a better humain society, I see million page of peoples arguing about the "bad major" and IP with every time the same arguments I see only a few to defend the creators point of view.

Now another system is not possible for many things: I cannot do live performance, I cannot offer service and the only "donate" button I've set in my life gave me... 20$. (Martin earned 1000$ one month of income for a poor worker) Let's talk about cooperation and goodwill.

Creator have stomac, if you ask creation for free or ask for a 100% rendements you'll have about nothing or less creation than yet and more talents wasted.

Practically how a libertarian would see my life yet and make a good use of my talents for the benefit of all ?

For me the democratic society must be tuned, not replaced. All other system have prooven to be hell (full of good intention and dream it's true)

Best

Dan
 

Andy44

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So Dan holds the classical view of IP as protection of his livliehood. And in your present circumstances, Dan, it makes complete sense.

But let's say for the sake of argument that you had built a career in a different system with less strict protection for IP. One in which you couldn't count on a copyright for income generation. How would that have worked?

(And BTW, I don't know what you mean by "replacing a democratic society". IP is a seperate concept from democracy, and no one's talking about replacing it anyway. Just re-examining the concept of IP philosophically.)
 

Tex

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Great blog entry Andy, a good read. Thanks for posting this! :cheers:
 

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One idea I've though of is using free software type copyrights and going back to a commission type system. A few centuries back, works of art and music and such were commissioned by the aristocracy, and the primary source of income from said works, as I understand, was not the sale or performance of them, but the commissions artists were payed to create them in the first place.

The problem with a commission system is that the prices to commission a work are going to be pretty steep. So, my idea is to put together software "guilds". One pays dues to a guild and gets voting rights of some sort in the guild in return. The voting rights allow one to write and give "I want this" support to specifications for software to be commissioned. The guild then goes and commissions software developers to write code and release it as free software. The same thing could be done for books, music, and digital artistic works as well.
 

Andy44

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Guilds are worse than present-day IP rights in my opinion. Guilds are protectionist by nature, so a young artist or writer would find it very difficult to get started in the business.
 

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Andy44;bt812 said:
So Dan holds the classical view of IP as protection of his livliehood. And in your present circumstances, Dan, it makes complete sense. But let's say for the sake of argument that you had built a career in a different system with less strict protection for IP. One in which you couldn't count on a copyright for income generation. How would that have worked?

I completely agree, 50 years IP is simply ridiculous most of time. I'm always surprised how dumb a law that should be only based on common sense can be applied practically. I'm for fairness and common sense before anything else.

For me it's unclear yet how would look practically what you want, there is so many libertarian groups that you can find about whatewer you want from the most right winged to the extreme left. Evil is in detail else we are only talking of the sex of the angel.

Now I love to debate but I'm affraid my english it too limited to express anything but basic or uncomprehensible view. ;)

Dan
 

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Andy44;bt817 said:
Guilds are worse than present-day IP rights in my opinion. Guilds are protectionist by nature, so a young artist or writer would find it very difficult to get started in the business.

"Guild" is just the name I use for it, there may be a better one for it, since it doesn't really follow the pattern of a medieval guild as a union/cabal of workers in an industry. Here, the members of the "guild" are part of the general public, not the industry. Feel free to suggest any better ideas you have for a name for the concept.

I envision it more as a group that acts as a negotiating middle-man between the public and software developers. The public has money, and wants software, but doesn't have large amounts of money pooled in one place. Developers can write software, and want money, but have to have some way of knowing what to write and getting payed for it. The "guild" is basically a way for the public to organize and pool its resources and lists of needs and wants so as to be able to present software developers with a lump sum commission for the development of free software. Individuals and groups could commission software without going through a "guild" if the project is trivial enough or the individuals rich enough or the groups well organized enough on their own.
 

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Something like open source bounties?
The fact that there is not yet a well-known bounty system means either that it's never going to work, or the idea has never gained its critical mass.
 

Linguofreak

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Yeah, something in general like that, just a bit better organized. I see this "guild" as being a serious business, rather than just "hey, let's drop some cash into a hat and try to hire a developer."
 

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Modern software require years/men of dev, a "sandwich" (boundies) might not keep all developers alive ;) Maybe they can do that in their spare time but in this case you'd have to deal with some delay. (say 2025 release for a game dev started in 2010?)

I'm always amazed by the lack of knowledge from average peoples thinking magic exist for real. Because it's virtual and can be downloaded on the net it worth almost nothing in contrary of pizza which require 20mn to be cooked.

Solution (speaking to self): stop softwares, make pizza ! At least you'll not have 60% thieve.

Dan
 

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Andy44;bt812 said:
But let's say for the sake of argument that you had built a career in a different system with less strict protection for IP. One in which you couldn't count on a copyright for income generation. How would that have worked?
He would clearly be unable to make a living off producing software, and would need a "day job" in order to pay for the time he spends producing software, with probably a corresponding reduction in the quality and quantity of his software (less motivation if you're not being paid for it).

I guess that's the world people want, one where those who produce intellectually (rather than physically) are unable to be paid for work that they enjoy and are good at, and must instead finance those activities doing "real" work.
 

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Hielor;bt824 said:
I guess that's the world people want, one where those who produce intellectually (rather than physically) are unable to be paid for work that they enjoy and are good at, and must instead finance those activities doing "real" work.

We're having a polite discussion, here. This post is both sarcastic and disrespectful, and brings down the level of discussion to a series of accusations and defenses.

Obviously you have the classical view of IP. Fine. Now try to explain it without accusing others (ie. me) of some ill intent.
 

Hielor

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Andy44;bt825 said:
We're having a polite discussion, here. This post is both sarcastic and disrespectful, and brings down the level of discussion to a series of accusations and defenses.
This is me, remember...if that weren't the case people would start to wonder if my O-F account had been hijacked!

Obviously you have the classical view of IP. Fine. Now try to explain it without accusing others (ie. me) of some ill intent.
The fundamental "problem" here is that computers allow us to make a perfect copy of something for almost no effort at all. If a song/picture/story/program shows up for distribution, any number of people can grab it for free.

This means that "intellectual producers" who produce items that can be copied thusly (artists, musicians, software developers, writers) might no longer be able to be paid for their work--if it's available for free, why would you pay for it? If the intellectual producers can't be paid for that kind of work, they need to do something that they can be paid for (since modern society kind of requires money in order to function), and this naturally translates into less time to produce quality songs/pictures/stories/programs/whatever.

People who enjoy taking things for free claim that it's the industry's fault for not adapting to a new climate and coming up with a business model that isn't affected by piracy. Except, the result of that is the "software as a service" model, where you need to pay subscription fees for continued access to your stuff, and the items are essentially worthless without the centralized access.

Frankly, I much prefer paying $40 or whatever up front for a game and getting to keep it forever than having to pay $15/month in order to continue using it, but the latter is what the industry is being driven towards. Not really an improvement.
 
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