Fight against so-called "intellectual property"
Last update: 30 Dec 2017
You may have heard this term - “intellectual property”. However, this is a misnomer. What actually exists is three type of laws: copyright, patent and trademark. All three are deeply flawed, but let’s talk about them one by one.
The most common one you are dealing with, whether you notice it or not. In essence, copyright law says that particular expression of idea is copyrightable and copyright owner has exclusive rights over it. Most important ones are right to copy and right to make derivative works.
It started in 17th century as an instrument of censorship. Back in the day, it was difficult to make a copy of, say, a book. So it was easy to use copyright to restrict distribution of ideas which were not approved by government. Since people who were pro-government could use the copyright to make more profits, they’ve spreaded the ideas that copyright is a necessity to operate business. Over a few centures of this brainwashing, people forgot the culture of free sharing and things like Mickey Mouse are about to be in perpetual copyright.
With rise of digital medium, it started to be possible to make a perfect copy of information. The progress of science was able to give people access to great swaths of knowledge at a very little cost. How did businesses act? They’ve started to invent forms of DRM to oppose progress and to try to make people give money for something that could be given for free at a very little cost. The propaganda skyrocketed, people started associating copying with theft and generally became very illiterate when it comes to understanding copyright.
However, there comes the Internet, World Wide Web specifically, which allowed people to quickly share with many others and people quickly embraced it. This was another great step which could allow humanity to become more knowledgable. Yet there were more and more ways invented to prevent the spreading of information. Any new mainstream consumer technology had parts of it developed specifically to go against the laws of nature only to satisfy a few corporations. On the other side were peer-to-peer networks which were decentralized and allowed free sharing. Then the court cases began, political parties were made… But the general population still stays very much uninformed and regularly commit copyright infringement without even noticing.
Let’s get to the bottom of it. The physical property is difficult to create and copy. It is reasonable to take money for each copy because it is difficult to make one. Digital stuff however - quite diffirent. It is difficult to create stuff, but it is easy to copy it once it is created. So it is natural to pay for creation of digital stuff and is unnatural to try to restrict copying. And it’s not that hard to modify business models, there are already crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter or Patreon which got infrastructure done. It’s just that corporations will try to squeeze every penny they can get out of uninformed crowds and keep twisting laws as they please. A hard, persistent pressure should be applied to make civil laws consistent with laws of nature. Namely, copyright laws should be abolished, or, rather, I would define copyright as the right of every human to copy any public information for any purpose. That would be in the spirit of free software and free culture movements.
While that would be an ideal case, we are far from it. Therefore, some compromises are needed to be made. As with any human law, you can live by it when it suits you and ignore it when it doesn’t. While it would be ideal to have free software for every purpose and free cultural works for every day, there are times when there are no free alternatives. In that case it is the right thing to use to use proprietary stuff, but you should never settle on the conditions set by the copyright holder. If they’ve chosen to release something under proprietary conditions, they fully deserve their conditions being laughed upon and, above all, they deserve no money. Every time you pay for proprietary stuff, you make this world a worse place. Every penny spent on proprietary stuff gives criminals (and people who make proprietary stuff are criminals) confidence in their actions. They form cartels such as RIAA, MPAA and WIPO and lobby their criminal interests to become laws. But if we stand against this, we may win this battle. Some countries like Sweden have recognized the ridiculousness of the copyright law and it is important to prove others the same. It will be hard.
On other other hand, what if you are a writer or artist and want to release your works? This time you can use current copyright law to your advantage. If you follow the theme of this article, you know that most of the people who come across your work won’t give you money. You may think that the winning move is not to play and release your works into public domain or use WTFPL-like license. “Fuck copyright, I’m not playing these silly games”. I had the same idea but here’s the catch: if a work is in a public domain, people can create a proprietary derivative works from it. While releasing your work into public domain or using a permissive license is not exactly the same as directly giving money to criminals, the net effect is the same. So you have this important choice: the choice to use a copyleft license. In a nutshell, copyleft means that derivatives works must be distributed under the same license as original works. So if you choose a copyleft license, you will deny corporations from exploiting your works for their criminal activities. This is the only case where copyright law can be used to your advantage.
What can you do
Stop giving money to corporations.
Corporations exist to earn money. Make sure they won't succeed.
Avoid reading non-free books, listening to non-free music, watching non-free movies, playing non-free video games, using non-free software.
Get out of the trap of proprietary works.
Spread the ideas of copyleft, free software, free culture and freedom from copyright.
Then we need to educate as many people as we can and make them understand the issue and start making their steps on their own.
Release your own works under the strong copyleft licenses.
If you are creating your own works, make sure they are free and protected from exploitation.
Lobby government to reform/abolish copyright laws.
Once the critical mass is reached, it is time to shoot for the stars.
If the copyright law applies to expression of ideas and you can avoid infringment by using clean room implementation, patents work in terms of ideas themselves. So even if you have discovered something by yourself and use it and there happens to be a patent out there, you can be sued. The patents were designed as a compromise between inventors and the society. Inventors disclose the secrets of their invention and instead get the temporary monopoly for it. Now, there are two problems with this. First, patents usually last for about 20 years and with the current speed of technological evolution this is a very large amount of time. Without such long expiration terms, thechnologies that rely on patented methods would evolve much faster. Second, corporations try to patent every bit, no matter how obvious and plain it is, like rounded corners or swipe to unlock or things that occur in nature, human genes and after that try to sue each other for infringement. And right now patents are weapons of this new “intellectual property” war and are used by larger corporations to press smaller ones into submission. Since every idea is based on some prior knowledge, you can’t just innovate out of thin air. And if your thechnology is spotted by a patent troll or a bigger corporation, they will likely threaten to sue and it’s usually cheaper to pay than to go to court.
Finally, pharmacological patents make real people die out there. How come human life is now less important than profits of some selected few? This is absurd and requires action on the part of society.
What can you do
Avoid using patended technologies.
This is tough and sometimes non-obvious.
Spread the ideas of freedom from patents.
Lobby government to reform/abolish patent laws.
Ok, for the previous two topics my position was simple, but for trademarks it is a bit different. Namely, I like to have a way to differentiate things. But, of course, in real world things got very messy. First, trademarks are by country or treaty. So you can have the same trademarks in different countries mean different things. This is unacceptable. A global authority is a must. Of course, this would mean that government need to fix their relationships wih each other, so it’s gonna take a while. Secondly, once we have a central authority, I think it’s very unfair to be able to trademark rather common names because all good ones will be taken quickly and latecomers will have a difficult time registering good names. When I was designing a system of general purpose components that can interoperate each other, I needed a way for a component to identify other components that have been already loaded, so I’ve chosen to use UUIDs. Later, I discovered that Microsoft uses the same system for COM. So I think what needs to be trademarked is UUIDs. However, there is one problem, people would not be able to memorize those. But we already have a solution - QR codes. A simple requirement of having an easily scannable code next to a human-readable name would solve the problem of ambiguity and monopoly on good names.