Using Technology To Obstruct, Not Encourage Innovation
|January 9, 2007||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Corporations Using Government to Control Customers
Using Technology To Obstruct Fair Use, Not Encourage Innovation
Patent and copyright restrictions have grown into major government-granted privileges. That is unjust.
Here are excerpts from a recent article appearing in InfoWorld magazine, a top computer industry journal. These remarks were sent by a reader named David Lynch to a columnist named Steve Gilmor.
Technology didn’t create our copyright problems — bad laws that steal from the public domain did
Those who attempt to broaden, deepen, and strengthen intellectual property rights — particularly the political, civil, and criminal changes we are looking at — are not only evil and wrong, but they fail to learn from history.
Organized crime in this country was created by Prohibition. Our drug laws have already cost us most of the Fourth Amendment and done little but criminalize large segments of our population. We are about to pass laws to protect greedy, monopolistic, price-fixing cartels from their own customners. Our industry in particular and way to much of business in general seems to be devolving rowards trying to use the law as a way of regulating he behavior of consumers.
Intellectual property rights were a seductive idea that failed two centuries ago. Thomas Jefferson eventually concluded the effect was diametrically opposed to their purpose of protecting small authors and inventors from powerful institutions. Instead of recognizing that technology has cast a bright light on the failure of copyrights and patents, we are busily trying to reinforce their clay feet. The copyright laws of the 18th and early 19th centuries — a time when ideas and expression held their value longer — would have returned the works of the Beatles, even most of the music of the ’70s, to the public domain. Instead, in order to protect Mickey Mouse, you need to be a lawyer and mathematician to figure out when the works of D.H. Lawrence will enter the public domain. Silent films are still copyrighted.
I prefer the moral and philosophical argument that intellectual property rights are a bad idea (maybe with good intentions) that has failed and cannot be salvaged to the more pragmatic one [that asks] why we need to pass a new set of laws to criminalize the behavior of ordinary citizens or, worse still, why we want to find a new way of disenfranchising and criminalizing our youth.
Let the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and the MPA (Motion Picture Association) engage in a war of technology and wits with the youth of the world but, for God’s sake, let’s not commit the force of law and the resources of our government to yet another hopeless war against our own future.
Advancing technology does not change what is right or what is wrong. It does not convert good law to bad. It just increases the contrast and makes it more obvious that a lot of seemingly good ideas that we have made into law are not really such good ideas after all.
I am not extremely familiar with the judicial history of intellectual property rights, but it is useful to note what the Constitution that in the United States created them actually says:
“The Congress shall have power … to promote the progress of science and useful arts … by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive rights to their respective writings and discoveries.”
While I believe our founding fathers were wrong — that intellectual property rights do not and cannot easily be made to serve the purpose for which they were intended — it still should be clear that the intent was to grant a brief advantage to inventors and authors, that specific public purposes had to be served by intellectual property laws, and finally that property is a misnomer. Intellectual property is owned by the public and in essence leased to authors and inventors. A temporary economic advantage for authors and inventors is created because a hopefully more valuable benefit will accrue to the public, and ultimately the lease expires and all rights return to the general public.
Economic advantage, while not inherently evil and certainly a part of the engine of commerce, is a reward to authors and inventors for contributing to “the progress of science and the useful arts.” Economic advantage is not in and of itself a valid purpose or justification for copyright or patent laws. So how is science and the useful arts advanced by a massive act of public theft advanced by the entertainment industry to secure Mickey Mouse, and secured by Congress?
Presuming that there still is a useful purpose served by patents and copyrights, any economic advantage accrues very quickly today. Creative works incur over 90 percent of their economic reward within a few years of their release, often faster. Why are we working so hard to nearly infinitely increase the duration? Intellectual property is supposed to return to the public domain.
Metallica and Disney may care about how much they collect when someone downloads their works, but I suspect that John Lennon and Janis Joplin are “happy” that a new generation is listening to their music, and I doubt that they are looking to spend any royalty checks.
I am not in a great hurry to commit our national resources to protecting thieves from theft.
We need to encourage innovation, not monopolization. Government should not give away special privileges freely or easily. What’s your opinion? Tell your views to The Progress Report!