Saturday, November 19, 2005

Ideas Are NOT Things

This is a concept that really needs to be promoted and understood throughout the populace, particularly among lawmakers. There is a very informative article regarding the topic via Guardian Unlimited entitled Owning Ideas by Andrew Brown:
The difference between ideas and things is obvious as soon as someone hits you over the head with an idea - so obvious that until recently it was entirely clear to the law. Things could have owners and ideas could not. Yet this simple distinction is being changed all around us. Ideas are increasingly treated as property - as things that have owners who may decide who gets to use them and on what terms...

...This is madness. Ideas aren't things. They're much more valuable than that. Intellectual property - treating some ideas as if they were in some circumstances things that can be owned and traded - is itself no more than an idea that can be copied, modified and improved. It is this process of freely copying them and changing them that has given us the world of material abundance in which we live. If our ideas of intellectual property are wrong, we must change them, improve them and return them to their original purpose. When intellectual property rules diminish the supply of new ideas, they steal from all of us.
Recent news stories inform us that with pending legislation it is quite apparent that there is much confusion over this issue. Confusion that could lead to furthering bad law, stifling innovation, and further restrictions against consumers.

Even the established doctrine of 'fair use' is being called criminal by some lawmakers. Copyright law (PDF, 290 pages worth) is as strong as it has ever been--it's too strong in fact with the life+70 years term. And patent law is virtually screaming for reform--particularly so-called software patents. It is my firmly held belief that copyright is sufficiently strong to protect code and that software SHOULD NOT be patented at all. Total reform in this area is wanted, I daresay required if technology is to continue tremendous pace of growth. As the article mentioned above points out, Microsoft became unbelievably prosperous when there was no such thing as software patents. That says volumes...

What is it in society, particularly government that compels us towards killing innovation & ever increasing restrictions? That is, of course, rhetorical but I certainly wish that lawmakers would take a step back for a moment and remember what it was like when they weren't politicians--if that's possible. Just take a moment to think about what it was like to be a regular person (enjoying legally acquired books, music, video, software at home) and then judge imposing further restrictions on the population in that light. Would they like it if their Fair Use rights were further diminished? Would they like someone telling them what they can and cannot do with their property? Didn't they ever tinker with a gadget to make it work better or differently or simply to find out 'what makes it tick'? When did reverse engineering become a 'bad thing'? One of the points of issuing patents is to have a source of ideas to build upon. Now they are simply used as a club to steal your company and/or lock up ideas as the article linked suggests. How can this possibly be good for the governmental mandate to 'promote the general welfare' (that they so often use as an excuse to touch every aspect of our lives even when there is no provision to do so in the Constitution. It makes you wonder how Article X: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. is actually applied, if at all in the Federal government these days)?

I would just conclude by saying that enough is enough!
  • Repeal software patents.
  • Stop the Patent Office from issuing patents for the obvious.
  • Reform Copyright law.
  • Repeal the DMCA, or at the very least reform it in favor of the consumer!
Balance in the so-called intellectual property field is what's needed if technological progress and advances in our culture are to continue their march forward.

Treating ideas as things and locking them away is extremely bad policy.

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1 comment:

Michael said...

I have to agree with you almost entirely.

Personally, I feel that the current extensions of copyright are out of line. Life + 70 years is a ridiculously long time. Consider that patents only last 15 years!

With regards to software patents, I agree that most are frivolous though I do see a usage in certain areas. For example, if someone designs a new compression or encryption algorithm, etc., it does seem fair that this sort of software technology be eligible for a patent. Arguably, "design" elements and concepts should not be "patentable".

Thanks for the read.

Regards,
Michael Tam
vitualis' Medical Rants