In my mind, intellectual property rights are the most important issues
facing emerging technology and human progress; Linux is part of that
progress. This discussion *is* very pertinent to Linux, and hiding our
heads in the sand or arguing over minutiae is counterproductive.
I am a writer, as in both physical books and more ephemeral, digital
works, including both prose and code. From my perspective, copyright
establishes ownership of an expression of ideas; it establishes my right
to control who prints my books for profit, such that I receive due
Copyright does *not* establish ownership of content and concepts; having
written copyrighted prose about QuickSort does *not* make me owner of
Once my writings enter people's brains, I have (and desire) no control
over them. If Joe reads my book, and then talks about it to Sally, he
isn't violating my copyright; Sally is welcome and free to use what she
has learned from me, via Joe, in her own code. I don't think you'll find
my beliefs much different from those of most authors and creators;
surely Vincent van Gogh would not claim control of the ideas spawned in
the minds of those who viewed his paintings.
The value in the written word is not in the subject, but in the
presentation. And that presentation is what copyright *should* protect.
Copyright grants me, the author, control over who can publish my
material, and how. No one can legally take one of my books or articles
and post it online without my permission -- but that does *not*
establish any "property" right on my part in terms of the underlying
When books were paper and copying was difficult, copyright worked well
as a way of guaranteeing that an author was paid for their work. While
the sharing of ideas is a potent impetus to writing, to ignore the
profit motive is to suggest that writers don't care about eating.
The expression of an idea has value; if I write a particularly effective
description of an algorithm, I should be paid by those who benefit from
my work. With physical books, the relationship between work and value
was clearly established; if I wrote something valuable, people bought
lots of books, and I was able to feed my family from publisher royalties.
The digital age breaks that relationship, leaving authors in a difficult
position. Publish a book electronically, and there is no way to compell
people to pay the author for their work. Someone who would never
consider stealing a book from a store is likely to copy a digital work,
because doing so is easy and risk-free. It's like breaking speed limits
-- almost everyone does it because they can get away with it.
Now put yourself in the position of an author. Unless you write purely
for the spirit, it becomes very difficult to justify the effort of
creating something for which you will not be compensated. It is bogus to
claim that people will buy physical copies if they enjoy free digital
versions; for most people, an MP3 is "good enough"; for most people,
having a digital copy of a book is as good as having a paper one. In the
end, the best an author can do is rely upon the "good" nature of people
to pay for the value they've received.
So we have a conundrum: authors need to eat, but people tend not to pay
for things unless compelled to do so. Copyright is, for digital
documents, invalid for the purpose of profit; my only reason for
copyrighting my online publications is to prevent others from copying
and claiming authorship of my efforts.
Trying to force old models into new realities will fail; enroute to that
failure, politicians will distort valid concepts (copyright) into
draconian forms (DMCA). Corporations, by virtue of their legal nature as
"entities", have perverted the process to the detriment of both creators
and consumers. The Mickey Mouse protection acts do not extend copyright
for the benefit of human creators -- such laws exist to benefit
artificial business entities that have become more valid than their
constituent human components.
A new model is required. And I believe the free software community
should lead the way -- but only if it works *WITH* authors, musicians,
coders, and writers to establish concepts for linking the creation of
material to compensation (i.e., survival). Society can not progress by
going backward (the corporate solution), nor by ignoring the needs of
creators (those who deny economic value for expressions of ideas.)
In theory, "free software" is not bound by corporate cultures and
regressive thinking. *This* community, represented by Linux developers,
should be taking the reins and deciding which horse we ride and where it
I'm open to considered dialog.
-- Scott Robert Ladd Coyote Gulch Productions (http://www.coyotegulch.com) Professional programming for science and engineering; Interesting and unusual bits of very free code.
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