Anarchism Triumphant

"Anarchism Triumphant" is a classic 1999 essay on the rise of the Free Software movement, written by a legal historian. The prose here is impeccable and incisive, razor-sharp commentary on the traditional notions of Intellectual Property and economic theorists, and the message is stirring as hell. Required reading, if you ask me.

We need to begin by considering the technical essence of the familiar devices that surround us in the era of "cultural software." A CD player is a good example. Its primary input is a bitstream read from an optical storage disk. The bitstream describes music in terms of measurements, taken 44,000 times per second, of frequency and amplitude in each of two audio channels. The player's primary output is analog audio signals [7]. Like everything else in the digital world, music as seen by a CD player is mere numeric information; a particular recording of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony recorded by Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorale is (to drop a few insignificant digits) 1276749873424, while Glenn Gould's peculiarly perverse last recording of the Goldberg Variations is (similarly rather truncated) 767459083268.

Oddly enough, these two numbers are "copyrighted." This means, supposedly, that you can't possess another copy of these numbers, once fixed in any physical form, unless you have licensed them. And you can't turn 767459083268 into 2347895697 for your friends (thus correcting Gould's ridiculous judgment about tempi) without making a "derivative work," for which a license is necessary.

At the same time, a similar optical storage disk contains another number, let us call it 7537489532. This one is an algorithm for linear programming of large systems with multiple constraints, useful for example if you want to make optimal use of your rolling stock in running a freight railroad. This number (in the U.S.) is "patented," which means you cannot derive 7537489532 for yourself, or otherwise "practice the art" of the patent with respect to solving linear programming problems no matter how you came by the idea, including finding it out for yourself, unless you have a license from the number's owner.

Then there's 9892454959483. This one is the source code for Microsoft Word. In addition to being "copyrighted," this one is a trade secret. That means if you take this number from Microsoft and give it to anyone else you can be punished.

Lastly, there's 588832161316. It doesn't do anything, it's just the square of 767354. As far as I know, it isn't owned by anybody under any of these rubrics. Yet.



(Thanks, Danny!)