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12/08/2003 Archived Entry: "Everything there is to say about intellectual property"

EVERYTHING THERE IS TO SAY ABOUT INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY. Here's a young writer, David Freddoso, who has said it all, when it comes to intellectual property.

Indeed, IP can be and is being abused by powerful industry influences and their buddies in Congress. And indeed copyright and patents should not be extended interminably (which destroys, rather than enhances creativity). But a society that believes that the work of artists, writers, and inventers can be seized at will and reproduced by anybody from the moment of its creation is a society that's in the process of destroying itself.

The current vogue among libertarians is to say that government invented copyright and patent and that they are mere "grants of monopoly" to undeserving creators. Therefore copyright and patent are evil in and of themselves. Therefore all property rights are simply vested in the paper, ink, or digits in which the work of the mind physically resides -- and he who holds the paper or the CD owns the work, lock, stock, and right to profit from whatever creative greatness that physical object contains. This trendy (and very self-serving, since it's promoted largely by IP pirates) view says the artist has no more right to profit from his own creations that some moronic, beer-gutted slob who bought a CD or a book at a garage sale.

This shockingly primitive view of property gives a convenient excuse to justify stealing the far more important creativity that lies behind those "mere" words, sounds, or images.

I, too, would rather see market protection, rather than governmental protection, for creative or inventive works. But if government hadn't "invented" copyright and patent, someone would have had to. Copyright and patent do nothing but what must be done -- acknowledge that a creator's years of effort, his unique contribution to the world, should not be ripped off the moment he puts them on the market. Copyright and patent confirm what already is and what must be so -- that the creator is not merely a slave to be exploited, but a real contributor to civilization.

You think artists (especially musicians) are being exploited by ruthless corporate interests now? Wait until the anti-IP crowd gets its way and those ruthless corporate interests can take any work they want -- without paying a dime for it. No doubt a handful of market-savvy, tech savvy, and very lucky artists will still survive. But thousands -- ultimately millions -- will give up in defeat, refuse to surrender their minds to thieves, take uncreative, perhaps menial jobs, and in many cases even commit suicide. No doubt some of the most icy-minded anti-IP advocates would call this survival of the fittest.

It wasn't until recently that I realized that IP pirates weren't merely aiming their piracy at big corporations (in the excuse of "liberating" exploited artists or striking back against abusive uses of copyrights), but that they were building an intellectual edifice to justfy ripping off every artist or inventor, including the most vulnerable, hardworking, innocent individuals. This was -- belatedly -- a wake-up call. Until then, I had accepted several pirated works and even loaned some DVD's to an acquaintance, knowing he intended to copy and distribute them P2P. It now turns my stomach to realize I wasn't merely playing a part in some anti-corporate monkeywrenching, but that I was aiding people whose goal was to strike at everything I hold most dear -- and everything that human civilization should value most highly. Never again.

You can't end corporate abuses of intellectual property by abusing all intellectual property. I'm sorry it had to hit so close to home before I finally understood what's really afoot.

It's no coincidence that the greatest burst of inventiveness in all human history started just as creators' rights began to be acknowledged, and continues to this day because those rights are acknowledged. Build a world in which creators must stand by helplessly while their works are stolen by anyone with the gall, the technology, and the needed reproduction tools, and first the artists, then the rest of the beautiful, sane, and civilized world will begin to disappear.

What you will have is survival of the unfittest -- those who value brute force over creativity, those who consider mere objects more valuable than human brainpower.

Posted by Claire @ 08:00 AM CST

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