Knowledge isn't property: Guardian column

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34 Responses to “Knowledge isn't property: Guardian column”

  1. Cupcake Faerie says:

    I really do not understand the finer points discussed here. I want to understand so,I will ask a couple questions and make an observation or two and maybe someone can point me in the correct direction.
    Perhaps I am a young writer. I have little money and lots of time. No family to support, yet. So I write write some interesting ideas down in the form of fiction, I share some of it with friends and former professors, they say: “Hey that’s really good – you should be published! Here is the name of a literary agent…” So the agent is contacted, soon a publishing deal is reached, and voila, I become a published author, anew book under my belt, and, most importantly, a check from the publishing house for X dollars. Enough money for me to quit my dish washing job and live comfortably. People like my writing so much that, further deals are reached, grants are granted, and I can continue to write down my interesting ideas in perpetuity. I receive money for my writings, royalties, life is good.
    My questions:
    1.) What if some person, any person, decides to copy down all of my words, maybe change them enough so that they are not verbatim, but copy the ideas intact, get a publisher and publish my ideas as his work?
    2.)Is that ethical?
    3.)Should he receive money for my ideas?
    4.)Is his priority over the ideas the same as my priority over the *original* ideas?
    5.) Why do we pay money for books?

    These may seem to be very naive questions but I do not understand the issue very well…
    I am, btw, I am grateful that a lot of stuff on the internet is “free” – Open Office for eg. but I do not make a practice of downloading movies or songs that were not meant to be downloaded from the internet in the first place – but that might be an entirely different can of worms.
    CF

  2. Irene Delse says:

    @ Jeff (#26): I can’t speak for Cory, but you know, the scenario you imagine is nothing far-fetched. It’s called “fanfiction”.

    Which is all right with many authors as long as it’s explicitly labelled as such. Since Down And Out in the Magic Kingdom is published under a CC license allowing derivative works, you would be within you rights if you wrote a fanfiction in which the characters were gay martian koalas.

  3. El Mariachi says:

    @Bongo: “A pair” is singular, much like a trilogy or a quartet, so “a pair of arguments” can indeed be “a canard.”

  4. Tom says:

    Excellent discussion of the economic perspectives on real vs intellectual property, by a Standford law prof..

    Bottom line: real property is a social good because it captures negative externalities. That is, if you over-graze your land, you’re responsible for the consequences, rather than shifting them to others in a crisis of the commons. Intellectual “property” is a social good because it captures positive externalities. That is, benefits to others from a copyrighted work or patented invention are partially transformed into benefits to the creator of that work or invention.

    The paper argues, consistent with Cory’s view, that there is a real problem today with the use of the term “property” for both real and intellectual stuff, and I have certainly seen a great deal of confusion amongst people concerned with IP regarding how and why it should be valued.

    Furthermore, for the average person, license agreements rather than contractual agreements are the most common form of IP restriction, and the legal reach of licensing is currently a hotly contested question.

    This post, for example, comes with a license agreement: READ CAREFULLY. By reading this blog-post, you agree, on behalf of your employer, to release me from all obligations and waivers arising from any and all NON-NEGOTIATED agreements, licenses, terms-of-service, shrinkwrap, clickwrap, browsewrap, confidentiality, non-disclosure, non-compete and acceptable use policies (“BOGUS AGREEMENTS”) that I have entered into with your employer, its partners, licensors, agents and assigns, in perpetuity, without prejudice to my ongoing rights and privileges. You further represent that you have the authority to release me from any BOGUS AGREEMENTS on behalf of your employer.

  5. Jeff says:

    Downpressor, thanks for the opinion.

    Irene, thanks for the response. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t consider fan-fic for some reason. Why? Probably because I don’t read it. I’ve been a slave to the usual way in which stories and books are bought and sold. Maybe it’s this dichotomy between what’s real (a published book/short vs. an unpublshied book/story ((which could be vanity press or web)). I guess if an author doesn’t mind people taking his stuff and doing what they want, then I can’t complain. But can I make money by doing so? Can someone explain why money makes it different?

  6. Milena says:

    If I may jump in…

    The main point in intellectual “property”, at least as I see it, is that, unlike physical property, it is not a zero-sum game. If people were to take stuff from my appartment, I’d be left without it. But when people “take” my words, I still have them, too. So it’s not about scarcity any more. However — and that is a point that Cory’s article points out really well — most content producers (or, more often, content distributors) often try to treat intellectual property market as if it were a scarcity market. And if it isn’t, they try to make it into one: that’s really the purpose of most DRM systems.

    As for your questions, Cupcake, consider Shakespeare. Most of his plays were based on already existing stories. So he, too, really used “somebody else’s ideas”. Does that make him any less a genius?

  7. maxblaster says:

    Flt…bnkrs…l…

    t wht pnt dd y dcd t “Brt t p,” nd t wht pnt dd y frgt y wr dng t n prps?

  8. Ugly Canuck says:

    What is property?

    “Property is theft” (stolen from Karl Marx).

    “Property is labour concretized” said Locke, who knew about how to truly protect the products of hie intellect, for he kept his diaries IN CODE. The man was a heavy-duty political operative in life, at his time dominated by the search for Royal grants of pensions.Such pensions could be given and taken at the whim of the King.And the “right” to continue to receive such wasn’t considered “property”.

    “Property is power to destroy without legal consequence”” says the American, whose freehold is absolute.

    While in Britain real property can be confiscated by law if “laid waste”, and the Crown always maintains an interest in all real property, gaining full title should the owner die without a will or any heirs under the laws governing intestate succession.

    In all cases the State reserves the right to expropriate should the public good require it .

    “Property – what’s that?” asks some First Nations, who lack the concept entirely.

    “Property” is a social construct. Those who argue otherwise have reasons to do so – the maintenance of power. Hence the attempts to include a “Right to Property” in human rights codes. An attempt to return “property” to the status it once had in Law, where one would hang for stealing a loaf of bread. But now human rights take precedence.

    “Property” is what we say it is , and it is manifested by the social enforcement of of the concept. It follows that should we wish it can be extended to the works of the imagination.

    My view is that the concept of property is already so involved a better terminology would avoid confusion. “Creation/creators right(s)” is better.

    A property “right” which is not enforced by the courts or by society is therefore not a right at all, but a chimera, a fantasy.

    In contrast in my view are the human rights eg. freedom from torture, freedom of expression. These rights exist irrespective of the ability to enforce them or the social recognition of them- in the absence of such, these rights are simply being denied – the lack does not strike at their very existence.

    The bottom line though is that copyright, just like the laws concerning “criminal conspiracy” (hello Al-Qaeda) both date from the era of absolute rulers, and both may easily become the instruments of tyranny and despotism, and in fact were originally designed as such.It should be noted that the original “copyright” also arose as a response to info tech ie. the printing press. Not surprising that changes in info tech requires, calls forth, changes in this area of the law.

    In a free and democratic society the majority may legislate as it wishes. The shape of the bundles of rights the Courts and Society will enforce remain as always matters of politics and discussion.

    Historically the powerful have dominated such discussions.
    But the future is unwritten, and is not yet subject to copyright.

  9. biffpow says:

    #1–Songe: As you allude, “disconnect” is a verb, not a noun. I don’t know specifically when the slang usage of it as a noun started , but it has been within the past 3 years or so in the US, and it is commonly believed that it began within corporate environments (aka business slang).

    This trend is the opposite of what has often happened with words in the US (including “contact” for instance, which began as a noun and devolved into a verb, and, more recently, “impact”, a noun that is being used as a verb in US print and speech lately as well).

    In a large majority of the cases where people incorrectly use “disconnect” as a noun, the word “misunderstanding” would fit much more appropriately (as is the case in Cory’s piece). These kinds of language degradations make English grow increasingly more difficult to teach, especially to ESOL students (one would never use “connect” as a noun, after all). And for writers or public speakers, it’s just lazy grammar.

    Cory, as both of those, should know better.

  10. Cory Doctorow says:

    Biffpow, you’re laboring under the misapprehension that English has an academy that determines its formal correctness (like French, German or Hebrew). English has no such academy and no formal rules — merely dialects, usage and rough consensus. The world’s largest pool of English-speakers is in India, speaking an English that’s extremely different to Canadian, British and American English.

    As a Canadian living in the UK who writes on subjects I studied primarily in the US, I write my own hybridized English — as do most expat “native” English speakers.

  11. Downpressor says:

    nikfromnyc

    are you trolling or just innocent?

  12. Ugly Canuck says:

    A further point as to laws of property and the “Information Age”. Possession of Information as a criminal offense.Its somewhat off-topic but it is related to the intersection of law and info tech.

    The laws have relatively recently changed in Canada, ie in 1989, such as to render the possession of Child Porn a crime. Prior to this change only distribution and production of such was criminal. The law was passed in the dying days of a right-wing government,reduced to only two seats in the next election.

    Prior to this law there was no possibility of any criminal conviction for simple possession of information as no information sets were banned in such a way. Even the possession of “Official Secrets”, on its own , wasn’t criminal IIRC.

    I submit that this law was introduced not to “protect children” but to allow wholesale state spying on computer use, the foot in the door. Prior to this law and in the absence of other criminal activity,the state could only search your computer for “State Secrets”(even then only in limited circumstances), as such was the only possible “criminal info”.(Copyright in Canada is still a Civil matter, except for commercial ie. knock-off production.)

    Realistically, they couldn’t devote lots of police man-hours searching the Net and investigating citizen’s internet use for that. So a new offense was created, which allows for just that. And this is what the US border guys say they’re after when they confiscate computers,hard drives, etc. In Canada lots of police are now scouring the internet full-time.

    Moral outrage used by those in power as an engine of tyranny? (Hello drug laws.) An old trick, referred to by Gibbon as being used by the rulers of Rome in his “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, itself written over two hundred years ago.

    People really should read more history. Things are as they are for reasons.

  13. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Moderator says:

    Cupcake Faerie:

    You’re asking the wrong questions. In fiction, ideas are a dime a dozen. Most of the value is in the execution. This is reflected in copyright law, which primarily protects the words in which the story is told.

    You don’t have to tell me you’re a naive young writer. I knew that about you the moment you started worrying about people stealing your ideas. Real writers have plenty of real things they worry about, but that’s not one of them.

    I can tell you why we pay money for books: it’s to make sure there’ll be more books when we finish the one we’re currently reading.

    BiffPow: do I have to listen to a lecture on grammar from someone who says “make English grow increasingly more difficult to teach”?

  14. Brit says:

    Cupcake Faerie:
    What if some person, any person, decides to copy down all of my words, maybe change them enough so that they are not verbatim, but copy the ideas intact, get a publisher and publish my ideas as his work?

    Ideas of stories are not protected IP. However, your words verbatim are protected IP (with the exception of fair use). Under the program advocated by anti-copyright crusaders (like Cory, Teresa), your verbatim words are not protected, and if someone or some company wants to steal your story and publish it without paying you a dime or even including your name, that’s perfectly fine – according to the anti-copyright crowd. It’s important to understand what exactly these people are advocating to understand why their ideas are ridiculous.

    Regarding Cory’s article:
    The term wasn’t in widespread use until the 1960s, when it was adopted by the World Intellectual Property Organization, a trade body that later attained exalted status as a UN agency.

    “exalted status”, huh? You can see right away that Cory is attempting to bias his audience towards a particular conclusion.

    people who’ve “had their property stolen” are a lot more sympathetic in the public imagination than “industrial entities who’ve had the contours of their regulatory monopolies violated”

    See – Intellectual Property belongs to big evil corporations, therefore, we should deprive them of it by eliminating the concept of Intellectual Property. Please ignore the obvious weaknesses of this argument (not all IP is owned by corporations, being a corporation doesn’t necessarily make you evil, being a corporation doesn’t mean the public has a right to all your stuff).

    That’s entirely true – and it’s exactly why the phrase “intellectual property” is, at root, a dangerous euphemism that leads us to all sorts of faulty reasoning about knowledge.

    I don’t think this leads to “all sorts of faulty reasoning about knowledge”. Sure, you can make the point that IP can be copied without depriving the original owner of the property, but Cory makes a giant leap from saying “IP isn’t like regular property” to “IP should be free for the taking”.

    Faulty ideas about knowledge are troublesome at the best of times, but they’re deadly to any country trying to make a transition to a “knowledge economy”.

    Yes, faulty ideas about knowledge can be deadly to any country moving to a knowledge economy, which is why I oppose faulty Cory’s ideas. Failure to protect Intellectual Property causes the “knowledge economy” to falter by depriving creators from being able to fully benefit from their creations. The anti-copyright crowd wants to put everything in the public domain, and that seriously undermines making a living by creating ideas.

    But there’s plenty of stuff out there that’s valuable even though it’s not property. For example, my daughter was born on February 3, 2008. She’s not my property.

    Quite frankly, I don’t know why Cory brings this up. He’s going to say Intellectual Property isn’t property, and therefore it’s free for the taking (talk about jumping to an unjustified conclusion), but then he wants to say that his daughter isn’t property, but there are certain laws and restrictions. Huh? Why not apply the same concepts to Intellectual Property? If you don’t want to treat Intellectual Property somewhat like real property, that’s fine as long as you create a different system that still gives creators protections similar to ones that exist for real property. (In fact, this double system already exists: copyrights and patents expire. On the other hand, your ownership of your car doesn’t expire.) Instead, Cory want to advocate just the opposite: all intellectual property is free for the taking.

    given all the investment his members had put into recording the ceremony on the 60th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid in the second world war, they should be given the right to own the ceremony, just as they would own a teleplay or any other “creative work”. I immediately asked why the “owners” should be some rich guys with cameras

    If you setup a camera and film something, you own your own footage. Unless they somehow had exclusive rights to film it, they should have exclusive rights to their film (but not exclusive rights to all possible footage of the ceremony). Other people can film it if they want. Besides, what would be the logical conclusion of Cory’s idea here? That books can’t be copyrighted because the words exist in dictionaries elsewhere? That your photograph of nature isn’t yours because you don’t own the atoms in a tree or a sunset? I especially like how Cory tried to spike the punch here by calling them “rich guys with cameras”, as if by attaching unattractive adjectives to the people, he can convince his readers that we can seize their work.

    If we’re going to achieve a lasting peace in the knowledge wars, it’s time to set property aside, time to start recognising [sic] that knowledge – valuable, precious, expensive knowledge – isn’t owned. Can’t be owned.

    So – Cory’s solution to “lasting peace in the knowledge wars” is for the creators to surrender? That’s an awesome solution. I’ll have to advocate that for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the only way to achieve lasting peace is for the other side to unconditionally surrender. What? You don’t like that solution? Of course not, because it’s a one-sided, selfish, we-win-everything solution.

    I also think it’s wrong to switch from “intellectual property” to “knowledge” to “knowledge can’t be owned”. As a software developer, I don’t see my programming work as “knowledge”. It’s a set of instructions for the computer, but it’s pretty meaningless for people directly. People don’t ever see any of this “knowledge” that I am creating (which is different from say, an article I write). Sure, there may be concepts and knowledge embedded inside the software which is intended for human consumption, but most of it isn’t “knowledge” in my opinion. Further, I don’t see what’s wrong with the ownership of knowledge anyway. I’ve heard other people comment that copyrights should be a two-tier system: users should be allowed to upload and download music to pirate bay, but companies shouldn’t be allowed to steal my creations and sell it without paying me. Of course, by advocating that position, you are treating “knowledge” as not entirely free. You are letting some concepts of “real property ownership” leak in. If my creation isn’t mine, then what right do I have to stop a company from coming along and selling it to the public while ignoring me entirely? (And of course, we’re supposed to believe that treating IP like real property is bad, bad, bad – and “knowledge” can’t be owned.)

    I sometimes think it would be an interesting and appropriate protest against Cory’s ideas if I did google-searches for everything he’s ever written, copied it, stripped out his name and replaced it with a fictional one, and put it up on a website. Maybe I could earn some money off it by putting up web ads or google adsense. I’d just like to see how quickly Cory would get upset. Hey, buddy – knowledge isn’t property. Unfortunately, I am actually too nice to actually do such a thing, but if someone is going to advocate bullying, then I think they should see what it’s like to be on the receiving end of it.

  15. complicity says:

    Cory,

    care to tell us how much The Guardian paid you for the intellectual property that is your 800-word article?
    I’m thinking irony – and hypocrisy.

  16. Downpressor says:

    @#29 Jeff,

    Some CC licenses allow others to make money off a creators work, some do not. Its up to what the creator decides to do when they license the work. I do non commercial because what I give I want to remain free to share, like a “free sample” and also because I dont want someone making money off my back without me getting a share (use in commercials, film, etc). Its the same reason essentially that I am choosy about who I license my works to commercially. For example I wont license to Japanese TV because they are notorious for not paying correct royalties if they pay at all. All in all, the packet of licenses offered by the CC just extend the choices of how a creator can allow their work to be used.

    @28 Irene Delse

    Believe it or not, not everyone is OK with fan fiction and I’d hardly say that an intentional degrading of an original work qualifies as that, especially when its not clearly presented as such. Were I to to insert scenes such as I described before into Down And Out and just leave it under Cory’s name that would be no labor of love, just one of sheer spite. Fortunately his style is easy to copy so it wouldnt actually take alot of effort to turn the thing into a festival of filth which might actually deceive a naive reader.

  17. Irene Delse says:

    @ Complicity: Are you saying that Cory should work for free? Do you perhaps confuse an Internet rights activist with a monk having renounced all earthly possessions?

    Magazines pay for the right to print a story, not for the ownership of the ideas or the words in the story. (That’s part of the point of the above post itself, BTW.) They give a compensation for the time and work the writer put in assembling the words in the story, just as a lawyer. But writers are often paid a lot less ;-)

  18. Jeff says:

    If any smart person/s wants to answer this: (I asked the same thing in another post): If we had the technology to copy our mind and upload it, would that be “intellectual property?” Let’s say we could “live” in this state, even if our physical body was dead. So, are we allowed to control our digital selves as they exist just as MIND? Do we get to own our discarnate selves? If yes, then where do our ideas (intellectual property)start and where do they stop? I’m thinking most people will say that we get to control our Minds, even if they aren’t in our former brains. Transhuman civil right may start by not limiting intellectual property rights. Right?

  19. Jeff says:

    23Brit said, “Cory,

    I think your heart is in the right place and many of the things you crusade for are “right” but the fact is your method of delivering the message is not persuasive and in fact alienates a lot of people I know of. I respect your choice to give away some your work at no cost to the end user but I dont get the idea you show respect to creators, publishers, those who apply or add value to knowledge who choose not to give it all away.”

    I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the who C.C. issue. I think I have a few dogmatic models of the market and need to see if I can change. I think what I need is more examples with how C.C. is a good thing and why. 23Brit makes a good point with the issue of adulteration of an existing book and then giving it away. How would Cory feel if I rewrote Down and Out but made the main characters gay? Or whatever? Why should I be able to do this? Why should I have that right?

  20. NikFromNYC says:

    People who copy books can’t afford them in the first place, lest why else would they be copying them?

  21. Mr Mumblez says:

    Note to Ugly Canuck:

    The term ‘property is theft’ actually came from the 19th century anarchist Proudhon, not Marx. I think Marx later borrowed it from him.

    See http://cepa.newschool.edu/het/profiles/proudhon.htm

  22. Downpressor says:

    @#23 Brit,

    You pretty much summed up my problems with the article. His use of the phrase ‘sharecropping knowledge barons who grudgingly dole us out limited rights to their “property.”‘ in an earlier comment also shows that sort of pseudo populist tub thumping choice of verbiage. In regards to a protest activity, why not take one of his CC stories and randomly add in scenes where the main characters engage in morally repugnant activities (cannibalism, necrophilia, exploitation of children, swindling the elderly and handicapped, etc)? Keep his name intact as the author and redistribute it. “Mashups” are good right? (All hyperbole intended)

    Cory,

    I think your heart is in the right place and many of the things you crusade for are “right” but the fact is your method of delivering the message is not persuasive and in fact alienates a lot of people I know of. I respect your choice to give away some your work at no cost to the end user but I dont get the idea you show respect to creators, publishers, those who apply or add value to knowledge who choose not to give it all away.

  23. Village Idiot says:

    So, are we allowed to control our digital selves as they exist just as MIND?

    Jeff: Depends on who owns the servers and drive your mind is stored on, I’d guess. That would raise some questions about backup copies, too, since you’ll definitely want to have a backup copy of yourself. Oh, wait, I see you asked if any “smart” person wants to answer that, my bad… I’ll go now.

    -
    Property is Theft.
    Property is Liberty.
    Property is Impossible.
    All of these are true. (apologies to the late Mr. Wilson)

  24. Cory Doctorow says:

    Oh, ffs, Complicity, read the article would you? You see the part where I say authors have a legitimate interest in their works and getting paid for it? You see the part where I say that knowledge is precious and valuable?

    Christ, if that’s the best you can do, go back to Digg.

  25. biffpow says:

    #16: Touche, Teresa, touche.

    Leave it to a mod to complain about a 3-paragraph “grammar lecture” : )

  26. Downpressor says:

    Jeff,

    I wrote what you are responding to. the “@23 Brit” is a way of responding to a numbered comment by someone else, thats all.

    I do think CC is a good thing and I’ve used it to release music, but as to its long term value for enforceability that remains to be seen. One issue I have, as per my example and yours, is it ignores the concept of the “moral right” of a creator (not recognized in all nations copyright laws, but anyway) whereby a creator can object to certain uses of their works. If a license allows derivative works then the creator essentially gives up the right to decide what derivatives can be created (as I understand it anyways). I’d be rather upset were the Japanese right wing to use some of my music as a bed for one of their messages but under a CC license, I couldnt do a thing about it and Japan recognizes moral rights of the creator.

    Of course the “no derivative works” version of the CC addresses this, but it introduces a catch 22 if you intended your work to be freely modifiable to begin with. Anyways, even if it doesnt solve all problems its a good start and addresses an actual need. I have used it to release tunes which I wanted to give away but retain the copyright and forbid the commercial use of the song (no one can resell it). Of course that didnt stop some of them from ending up on russian MP3 sale sites but they sell my commercial releases as well and I dont have any legal recourse in that either.

    This doesnt change my opinions about Cory Doctorow’s behavior though. In my eyes he’s the worst friend a good cause can have since his reputation can poison the cause by association.

  27. Songe says:

    When did people start using the term “disconnect” like this? Anybody have the inside scoop?

  28. gadfly says:

    i couldn’t tell you where it started but boy do they love that expression in academia

  29. Bongo says:

    I hope this comment doesn’t appear too much like swatting a fly with a sledgehammer (especially as it’s my first comment in this forum, and I generally find Cory’s commentary to be well-informed and worth reading), but while there are some truths cited in the Guardian article, the conclusions are totally fatuous. While it is (successfully) arguable that existing IP law is inadequate in addressing the allocation of rights among creators and users of information, the reason cited–fundamentally, one of terminology–is simply wrong.

    The article states “even though [my daughter is] not my property, I still have a legally recognized interest in my daughter.” This is offered as an argument that property concepts are exclusive of other types of legal interests.

    The article goes on to say that “trying to shoehorn knowledge into the ‘property’ metaphor leaves us without the flexibility and nuance that a true knowledge rights regime would have.”

    This pair of observations is a canard.

    In fact, all property (real property, chattels, and intellectual property) rights are subject to numerous alternate legal frameworks, including contract, regulation, and various common law doctrines not having specifically to do with property rights (such as tort).

    Likewise the observation that certain types of information are not afforded copyright protection in no way diminishes the property-analog characteristics of copyright law. Even if you decided (unwisely) to analogize all knowledge to the totality of real property, it is easy to identify situations where the property law analysis is essentially irrelevant for land, such as public areas, or areas that are so contractually bound up (common areas in a condominium) that the property analysis is never useful.

    Notwithstanding those examples, it would be silly to conclude that real property law was an improper framework because it wasn’t universally applicable to legal analysis involving land.

    Contrary to the unstated assumption that “property” terminology confuses issues of rights of creators / users of knowledge or information, every so-called IP lawyer is well versed in doctrines other than property rights that pertain to knowledge and information. Indeed, by getting bogged down in the nomenclature issue, the article totally ignores critical issues regarding rights that can be protected under various intellectual property regimes.

    As Mary Wong at The Franklin Pierce Law Center has noted, among the most restrictive limits being placed on the use of information are contractual restrictions imposed by information creators / distributors, such as end user licenses.

    These restrictions are not limited to copyrighted application / driver software, but go to entertainment content (see the recent issue with whether churches are allowed to display NFL broadcasts at their parties) and hardware (licenses for printer hardware that restricts the owner from using third party ink cartridges).

    The idea that creators and users of information of knowledge, and legal practitioners working to protect their respective rights and positions are somehow limited in their reasoning capabilities by the language inherited from property law is baseless.

    Bongo

  30. Bongo says:

    That Bongo is an idiot. How can a “pair of arguments” be “a canard”? Hasn’t he heard of subject / object agreement?

  31. Brit says:

    Seems that Cory dropped out of the conversation.

    One other point I should make a little more explicitly is the fact that Cory turns “intellectual property” into “knowledge”. That makes his “knowledge can’t be owned” more persuasive mostly because when people think of “knowledge” they think of learning, how-to manuals, tutorials, reference books, etc. Knowledge helps us improve the world by being more capable. So, saying “knowledge can’t be owned”, he makes it sound like this idea, this principle, is going to move the world forward and bring education to everyone. The problem is that when you look back at Cory’s switch from “intellectal property” to “knowledge”, you realize that not all IP is knowledge (at least not in that way). A copy of “Spiderman 3″ is IP. Is it knowledge? When we think of education and learning things to move our society forward, do we think, “You know what would help? If everyone had access to the movie ‘Spiderman 3′?” A lot of IP is entertainment. Cory lumps all of it into the category of “knowledge” in order to seem presuasive when he says knowledge can’t be owned”. In the real-world, this can be reworded into “movie producers have no right to deprive the public of free downloads of Spiderman 3″, which sounds pretty ridiculous when it’s put in those terms.

    I once read that whoever controls the language of a debate has half the job done. It’s worth pointing out that Cory is attempting to control the langauge of the debate by using inaccurate words like “knowledge”.

  32. Bergjylt says:

    Interesting attempt to break it up. But there’s so many philosophical concepts of property to base legislation on, nevermind whatever the lawyers think they know about the issue. For example, if we go by Lockean labour theory of property, knowledge certainly must be considered property.

    I’ve found myself thinking about the copyfight more and more in terms of one of the ideologies which inspired the swedish Pirate Party – information socialism. The advantage about that line of thought is that it lets you postpone a clarification of the concept of property, and concentrate on the ethics of access.

    Because regardless of how you think of it in the sense of property, stored and aquired information is capital. It is a means of labour and a subject of labour.

    Just as with other means of production, denying people access to information can equal holding their means of life for ransom, and is a form of exploitation. In a mild case, you could compare it to a lockout.

    But since information is a prerequisite to all other means of production, information-based exploitation can get as glaring as extorting AIDS patients en masse by witholding their medicine, letting those who can’t pay die.

    Unlike most attempts at getting a coherent grip on the copyright issue, which mostly shuffles outmoded economic liberalist concepts around to see what happens, infosocialism brings copyright and patent issues into perspective as part of a choerent whole. This fight is about a lot more than free mp3′s.

  33. Jeff says:

    Good post Bongo. I have a philosophical problem with Cory’s interpretation of intellectual property. So, the “ideas” are not property, but then, isn’t that one of reasons we have patent law? After all, all things can be reduced to ideas. Before any “real” object is made, it’s an idea. Is this issue ultimately going to be deconstructed into basic memes, for which Cory has said there is no property value?

  34. Cory Doctorow says:

    Bongo, I think you’re misconstruing my point: once you tell people that the reason that they have been afforded an interest in this idea or that is because it is their property (rather than characterizing it as a limited, policy-driven regulatory monopoly, as even WIPO’s charter holds), then you invite them to draw numerous faulty analogies to the disposition of their knowledge.

    For example, a stadium owner can condition your entrance on the basis of your agreement to subject to a metal-detector search; if a book is “property” of the author, then your receipt of the book could be conditioned on your willingness to accept certain comparable terms (for example, a requirement that you register as the owner of the book and report on its status to the author — has it left the country? Been lent? etc).

    Indeed, an oft-repeated shibboleth of property-addled writers is that readers “only own the physical book — the words remain the author’s property.” This isn’t even true in today’s propertized copyright system (exhaustion, fair use, and other exceptions and limitations in law all acknowledge that the reader has an interest in the words and ideas, as well as owning the physical book).

    “Intellectual Property” is an affront to the idea of property, since it holds that all objects might embody someone else’s “property” (a secret, a trademark, a copyright, a patent, etc) and that therefore you can’t really be said to “own” anything. Your house’s plans remain the “property” of the architect. Your wedding photos remain the “property” of the shooter. Your microwave, computer, t-shirts, carburetor, and TV remote are all someone’s “property.” The only true owners in an intellectual property are sharecropping knowledge barons who grudgingly dole us out limited rights to their “property.”

    Take Jeff’s #6: patents are *not* property. They are most assuredly regulatory monopolies enacted to encourage inventors to eschew trade secrets in exchange for limited terms of exclusivity. They have a policy rubric and patent systems can therefore be empirically measured and compared to discover how “well” they work: if this country’s inventors make more recourse to trade secrets than that country’s inventors, then the former has a worse patent system than the latter’s.

    An even better example is in trademark, which is even less “property” than patent. Trademarks have their origin in common-law consumer protection cases, and were codified (recently) into law on that basis. Companies are granted trademarks in order that they might protect *the public* from misleading use of the marks. It doesn’t matter a fig if an abuse of a mark harms its “owner’s” interests: trademark protection only cover harm to the public interest. And yet, many is the trademark “owner” who will defend the undying need to protect his “property” — said property constituting a word used in everyday speech by millions, a thrumming of their vocal cords that, nevertheless, does not belong to them, but rather to some distant “trademark owner.”

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