Intellectual property

So, I think I’ve talked before about, despite the fact that I am in the business of producing intellectual property for people, I think intellectual property is a bad idea.

Now, as so often happens when one lives in a place like Earth, I have elected to make a deal with the devil. I don’t share all my source code with everyone, and I respect the conventions our society has about intellectual property – for the most part – instead of running warez boards. But, I think intellectual property is a bad idea. I think it hurts us all.

The first point I want to make is that it ignores certain basic truths. Infinity really belongs to all of us. If someone were to claim a patent on the number ‘1’, they’d be laughed out of court. But somehow we have gotten the idea that certain very large numbers (digital files describing music) are special, insofar as the person who finds them first on Earth owns them. Now, were this person a 3-year-old, they would be told to share, but in the adult world we generally don’t think that way, so we’re okay with whoever discovered this particular large number, whatever it might be, being allowed to camp out on it and claim it as their own.

This has some bad side effects. The first example I’ll give is maglock. Given the number of laptops that end up in landfills after their PCBs are shattered by side forces on the barrel connector of the power supply, Apple should have *instantly* granted MagLock to the entire world, for free. Camping out on that patent *hurts everyone*. It hurts the planet, it hurts the users, it makes the human race less wealthy. (See earlier discussions about money vs. value).

Even more stupid is camping out on USER INTERFACE METAPHORS! This is saying “I think my ability to cash in as much as possible on this idea is more important than having a unified set of user interface metaphors that everyone can draw from”. Not to mention, EVERY SINGLE TIME it ends up being prior art.

Things get worse, however, when people start to camp out on large numbers that REPRESENT DNA. Look, you’re standing on the shoulders of giants when you edit DNA, and you should acknowledge that DNA should implicitly be considered open source. You *certainly* are in no position to patent or copyright it and claim ownership. Where would you be if everyone throughout time had had that attitude? Answer, you *WOULDN’T BE*. So, Monsanto, please grow up. Edit DNA all you want.. but *trust your customers*. If you’re making good stuff, they’ll keep buying from you. And accept that other companies *SHOULD* take your good work and improve it further. Open source is a truly honest way to live – living in a world where you camp out on information and call it intellectual property ignores the basic fact that we are all influenced by each other and by our shared history. There’s a part of me in what you’re coding, and a part of you in what I’m coding.

I would point out that I have purchased numerous versions of software that I like, voluntarily shelling out to people like MOTU and Propellerheads and Microsoft and Adobe. Not because I couldn’t have pirated it – I easily could have – or because I think piracy is morally wrong, because I actually think that piracy is morally right, as I will explain in a few minutes – but to encourage those companies to continue their good work. Because I like what they’re doing and I want them to keep doing it, and I fully understand that until we get rid of money (a major and important goal, but not one I feel assured I will live to see) they need money to continue their pursuit of software goodness.

Now, about piracy. In a previous article I talked about how it’s in the best interests of the future for us to copy mp3s far and wide.. if we make enough copies of the brilliant musical library that we as a race have assembled, maybe one will survive. And you have to admit, you would *love* to hear the music of a alien race, or one from the dawn of history. It’s in general in our best interests for our best ideas to get copied widely. This *is* value. If you make a copy of some code or DNA and music I have written, I have lost nothing and you have gained something, so the net worth of the human race has increased. (However, if you make a copy of, say, a really bad set of ideas that will cripple you if you embrace them, the opposite is true.)

The root of this problem is, of course, money. We all have to have it if we want to continue eating and sleeping indoors, and especially for people like me, generating intellectual property for someone else is a handy way to continue getting it. However, as automation gets better and better, it is going to be harder and harder to even try and find jobs for everyone, and we’re more and more going to have to consider just giving people resources without making them slave away every day (quite possibly at makework, or at a job that doesn’t need to exist because a different attitude would let us, for example, make cars that ran for a hundred years between major overhauls, or houses that would stand for five hundred) – basically, saying we should *expand* the “entitlement” programs.

I am all for this. If we can give people something they want without making them suffer for it, let’s! But then, I don’t want to die and go to heaven – I’d rather just.. wake up there one day. And I’d *really* rather not make people who don’t want to work spend their lives doing things that don’t make them happy just for the sake of a ideal – which I think many conservatives hold.. that people should have to suffer.

To tie in the Christianity rant I’ve been on for the past few weeks, I really feel like some of this can be ascribed to us feeling like we are flawed. It’s a key message in Christianity.. you’re sinful. You’re bad. Things that feel good to you are bad. God hates you, and only by killing his own son could he manage to make himself forgive you. Everyone at this point knows that I hate that message, that I think it is a lie and that also Christianity as implemented in the US distorts the reality about God, who is I think a lot better than the Christians believe *e is, but because what we believe filters what we experience, they can’t see that. And I, of course, can’t see the God who would want you to sacrifice and hurt and suffer and be afraid. Our beliefs form resonant filters in our minds, and also resonant relationships with the reality we experience.

So, the Christians I think even if they *could build the garden again* – which automation certainly makes a possibility – *would not* because *they think they don’t deserve it*. This is so clear.. you have to live a whole life full of suffering and fear and pain and then *die* and *then* you deserve to have a good life. I am not such a fan of this idea, or of some of the results of it – people thinking they should judge other people, and punish other people. Because I am a fan of diversity I would not want to take away their freedom to believe the things they do but I wish I didn’t always have to be exposed to the results.

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