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The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Tuesday, January 24, 2012day link 

 Intellectual Property
picture There's no such thing. Certainly it isn't something you can steal. Quite the contrary, it is a license to steal. Specifically, it is a legal construct that gives an exclusive license to one party to stop all other parties from using certain words or certain pictures or certain designs or certain patterns of arranging things, simply because they were the first to claim that they invented those words or pictures, and that they own them. And the purported owner can then extort money from all the other people, or simply stop them from doing anything that looks like what they did.

It is a tired, tired old discussion, but intellectual property is not property. It is not in any way the same as when you own a physical object of some kind, and somebody can steal it. It is not even remotely that way, and you should be insulted if anybody suggests it. If you have a car, and somebody steals that car, by removing it from you and taking it into their possession, then obviously you don't have your car any longer, a car that took quite some resources to acquire, and which took raw materials to build. As opposed to that, with our modern technologies, ideas, words and pictures are extremely easily copied, for almost no cost, while leaving the original completely intact. Your car is still there, even if somebody took a picture of it, just like your website is still there, even though somebody saved a copy of it. Your car is also still there, even if somebody went to the trouble of building a copy of it. Copying is not stealing. Not even close. If you claim so, you're running some kind of scam.

The scam of Intellectual Property is quite similar to how you meet a con artist on the street. They seem friendly and they might ask you for a favor or invite you to play a little game. And before you know it, you owe them 100 dollars, and it isn't quite clear how it happened.

There's a lot of apparently friendly Intellectual Property around. If you turn on the radio, there are dozens of channels playing music non-stop. They actually broadcast songs over all civilized areas, from high powered emitters. Apparently free for anybody to pick up, as long as they have the receiver, which is cheap and ubiquitous. Nowhere are you presented with any contract that says that you'll be punished for saving any of this music, or sharing it with a friend. Turn on your TV and it is the same thing. Dozens of channels broadcasting high quality content to you non-stop, for free. The same people broadcast much of this content for free on the Internet. But if you ever get the idea that you can save some of it for replaying to yourself and your friends, you're suddenly a criminal, because you didn't then drive to a store to buy a CD or a DVD with the music or film you wanted to keep.

Intellectual property is like those apples one always hears about at Halloween, where some wacko embedded razorblades in them. They looked like a nice and friendly gift, but if you go off and actually try to eat them, you get hurt. Or it is like a crack dealer distributing free samples. Seems like a nice and friendly thing to do, but it is a gift you'll pay for later.

There are a lot of bogus cover stories you'll be presented with. It is to support the starving artists and musicians. They need to be paid for their hard work. It is just that those people are rarely the actual people you're being asked to pay. Sony is not an artist. Neither is Warner Brothers. They are businesses trying to make a profit. If you look into the accounting that applies to the majority of artists or authors that have record deals or publishing contracts, you'll find that the vast majority of them make nothing whatsoever, or they even have to pay out of their own pocket to be published. The people who make money are the very few really big names. The Madonnas and Brad Pitts. But much more so the media companies. The rest have been scammed as much as you have.

If you think it is a problem now, it can get much, much worse. Think about patents on DNA. Think about copyrights on 3D wireframe models. Think about big companies using courts to stop people from growing certain things in their gardens and from creating certain objects in their garages. In addition to stopping us from using certain words and certain melodies and certain images and likenesses. What could be a glorious future of local production and distributed creativity could instead turn into a nightmare dystopia where a few multi-national megacorps have the government backed power to turn off the things you create, or use, or grow, because they "own" them. Or have you pay them handsomely for the right to create.

One possible avenue, to avoid this, is to stay far away from anything that looks like Intellectual Property, to refuse to use it, to block it, ban it.

A new Internet2, free from copyrights and patents and any other kind of IP looks like a better and better idea. No, I don't mean a pirate network for sharing their stuff. I mean a network where intellectual property is banned. We just won't play their game at all.

Software has been created for the purpose of identifying "owned" materials, like music or film. Imagine using it in reverse in a new Internet. I.e. anything that is "owned" will simply not be transported. Not by its owners, not by anybody. It simply won't go anywhere. Nobody wants it. In other words:

If you have intellectual property, please keep it to yourself!

Which is what should have happened in the first place. We call your bluff. If you made it and you think it is yours alone, fine, keep it. But don't let us catch you handing it out as a free sample to anybody that you could hope to later entrap. If you really think it is YOUR photo, keep it to yourself in a shoebox or on your computer. Don't post it to thousands of people on the Internet, and then later claim that they stole it from you. They didn't. You gave it to them. So, don't, if you don't want to.

Hefty fines would be in order for anybody trying to distribute their own intellectual property in any way. Some number of dollars for each person you knowingly have distributed it to for free would be quite reasonable, if you then later make demands of money for the very same thing.

So, I'm suggesting reversing the game. Blow the cover off the game when you see it. Don't allow this kind of thing on your networks. It's a crime.

I'm well aware that there are very large and rich corporations that have made themselves the cultural gate keepers who somehow seem to own most of all music and film, and a lot of the words, despite them not having created any of it. And others corporations who seem to own any thinkable way of manufacturing most of the things we need. And, yes, I know that they somehow have bribed the governments of most countries to do their bidding, and their plan of turning their scheme into international law is well advanced. And they have plenty of ways of expanding their scam. Just like they can patent the vegetables in your garden and the cells in your body, they can of course also think up ways of making it seem like the music you create yourself and the videos you record violate their copyrights. They could very well have the power to position a copyright-refusing Internet2 as a haven for pirates.

But if, instead of buying into their game, feeling guilty when they entrap us into pirating their stuff, you recognize it for what it is, it will be a lot harder for them. If you create spaces where their stuff isn't allowed, it will slow them down. If you call them on it, fewer people will be fooled. There's still a chance that this civilization-killing scheme can be stopped and reversed.

Support people who create. Writers, musicians, photographers, artists, makers. Directly. Support their creativity. Help them make a living from it. Oppose corporations and their lawyers and politicians who make a system out of owning and stopping creativity and communication, profiting unscrupulously from the creative work of others.

Create loads and loads of new stuff. In new ways, in new media. Make it altogether impractical for them to keep up. Expand the commons faster than they can privatize it. Use and support stuff that is free. Pay for and reward added value, route around ownership.
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