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The Internet

Information As A Global Public Good 49

Danny Yee writes: "The struggle for free software is part of a broader struggle for free information and communications. Those who will be hurt most by commodification and appropriation of information are the poorest men and women around the world - so we are trying to interest aid and development agencies in intellectual property issues. Read Information as a Global Public Good - a proposal for an Oxfam International advocacy campaign."
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Information As A Global Public Good

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  • I'm all for the campaign, but the authors conveniently forgot someone in the 'oppononts' category : the US government.

    the US is the largest exporter of IP, including software, mass media and medicine. While as consumers we are fleeced, as Americans consumers (those of us who are) we partake (to our benefit) in fleecing the rest of the world. Read Judge Kaplan on DeCSS and see how much this is a decisive concern.

    NGO's should work with third world countries such as South Africa and China who are willing to challenge the US, in order to help butress, defend and explain the morality of their refusal to submit to US mandated international IP rules.

  • So what do you think: is information a public good (by characteristics) or a market good?

    Almost all information should be public. Of course, this is up to the creator of the information. It's good that you brought up those terms.

    I'm no economist, but I like to play one ....

    In capitalism, you make something (imbuing it with effort), and sell it. An ideal capitalistic economy will ensure that you get paid in an amount of goods equal to the effort you put into it. If you get paid less, you make something else; If you get paid more, other people start making what you make and competition drives the price down.

    The degree to which you need preliminary (one-shot) cost to set up your trade is the degree to which capitalism doesn't apply. In most cases, this doesn't matter much because you soak up the preliminary costs in the per-item cost, but when the per-item cost is close to or equal to 0, the system breaks down.

    For example, does &ltrandom fabulously wealthy or fabulously poor musician&gt really deserve every bit of his money? as in, does the amount of effort &ltmusician&gt put into his craft equal the compensation he receives?

    Since information will become a commodity it will be governed by the laws of supply and demand in much the same way as any other product

    But it shouldn't. What I'm trying to get to is that, basically, easily replicable commodities, or information, is better served by socialism. In socialism, there is (presumably) some kind of body that decides who deserves what (presumably) fairly. This way once a person is paid for his effort, everyone can benefit.

    Net gain: A bunch of people can use information they normally couldn't.
    Net loss: None.

    I think it would be really neat if an organization could emulate this kind of system inside the capitalist countries

    Disclaimer: This was mostly the fruit of my cumulative daydreaming trips (it's been fermenting for a while now). I may be wrong; take it as you will....
  • He didn't contribute that bit.

    Danny.

  • information will always cost something to create, and those that put their resources into it should be the ones to profit from it.

    Information doesn't cost as much to create as you might believe. From 1996 until 1999, Pharmacia and Upjohn spent twice as much on sales & marketing as they did on research. They spend over 2 Billion a year on marketing and about 1 billion a year on research & development.

    A billion is still a lot of money, but when the pharmaceutical companies whine about patent duration being too short, they can always make it look like a lot more.

    The laws governing the ownership of intellectual property were intended to help creators produce works of value to humanity. In achieving this social purpose, intellectual property laws have been more successful than anyone dreamed possible. Now we have the opposite problem. Too much information. Humanity serves the creators of science and technology rather than vice versa.

    We were once able to see a collective purpose -- the creation of knowledge would be a benefit that could be enjoyed by all people. We created intellectual property law to help bring about that benefit. That was 300 years ago. Times have changed. We are now entering a period in which our collective purpose is best served by placing some measured limits on technological "progress".

    We could act rashly and try to impose those limits by force -- simply demanding that all corporate research to be state approved. Instead of directly trying to limit the behaviour of companies like Monsanto (who now own Pharmacia and Upjohn), we have an opportunity to achieve this outcome by gradually phasing out intellectual property law. Then we can have a sensible and circumspect view of technological development. We will be the owners of the technology, rather than being its slaves.

  • I concur. The internet allows the spread of free high quality education to anyone that can access it. I've been thinking for a while of a way computers could be donated to those in need, try to give every community access to computing and the internet through the spread of Linux, old 486's and Pentiums, and free internet service.

    The other thing that could be done would be to create a massive database/system to enable people in need to request specific help to those able to provide it. If the information about a town with starving children is on the internet in everyone's face, we'd be more inclined to do something about it

  • So if I understand this correctly: if I come up with an idea for a new type of steel which will revolutionize the railroad industry, and I keep it all to my greedy self, I am harming the "global public good"? If I have the cure for AIDS locked up in my head and I don't share it, I am stealing something that belongs to "the people"?

    Yes, in fact it does belong to the people. Whose ideas did you use to think up your cure for AIDS? Did you use Watson and Crick's work? Did you use the work of other individuals who came before you? What portion, exactly, did you add to the already existing information that made it yours?

    What hubris to think that laying the last stone in the building makes you the landlord.

  • by laborit ( 90558 ) on Friday May 12, 2000 @07:34AM (#1077101) Homepage
    Actually, one of the important information locii listed in the report is biotechnology and genomic information, which is very relevant to starving people. A Green Revolution that doesn't require farmers to sell their souls to Monsanto is possibly the fastest way to make food prices drop and better health and nutrition available to the masses. Once there's a greater surplus per laborer, you can have more time for education, infrastructural development, and all the lovely uses for free information that were previously "not much use to the starving."

    Of course, this assumes that the corporation in whose sweat shop the non-agrarian masses are working doesn't just lower wages again. That's why people in the developed world need information access (and interest), so that when something like that happens we can financially castrate them.

    - Michael Cohn
  • Since information will become a commodity it will be governed by the laws of supply and demand in much the same way as any other product. However there are important differences, in that the supply is potentially infinite once the act of creation has occured.

    The question is: is information a "market good" or a "public good". The authors of the article clearly wish it to be treated as the latter while the "powers that be" are just as clearly increasingly treating it as the former. AC alludes to that when (s)he wrote "Since information will become a commodity...". The commodification of information is treated as a given.

    There are differences between market goods and public goods and the differences are not just different labels. One example of such a difference, is that market goods tend to be "zero sum" (the more you give away the less you have yourself) while public goods are not. Public goods are said to have the characteristic "indivisibility". Any individual that belongs to the relevant group can acquire the same amount of the public good already made available to the other members of the group at no extra cost. Thus street lamps are considered public good items. If I take advantage of the light cast, it doesn't diminish the availability of light for others. Public roads fit into the same category (though it may not seem that way during rush hour!). On the other hand, items like money, desks, chairs are clearly not indivisible.

    Another characteristic of public goods is "non-excludability". What you give to one member of the group, you must give to all. Again street lamps meet this criteria (as does national defense). A third characteristic is "non-rejectability". Similar to non-excludability, this implies that a good cannot be rejected by a member of the group. Someone can decide not to pay for national defense, but he or she cannot reject the benefit (such as it is) of national defense.

    Information is a mixed breed. It contains some of the properties of public goods (e.g., indivisibility - which is why libraries work) and some of the characteristics of market goods (e.g., excludability - which is how copyright works).

    I was expecting, based on the title of the item, that it would discuss the characteristics of a public good shared by information and argue that since it acts like a public good, it makes sense to treat it as one. I was hoping that reading the article might refresh my memory of the various characteristics of public and market goods (as you can see above, I can only remember three of them). Oh, well.

    It may be worth noting that, even as information is increasingly commodified in our "information economy", with the advent of the Internet, gnutella, etc. it increasingly losing its market good characteristic of excludability. Others may counter by pointing to PGP and other modern encryption technologies and say that exludability is as present as ever.

    So what do you think: is information a public good (by characteristics) or a market good?

  • >Since information will become a commodity it will be governed by the laws of supply and demand in much the same way as any other product.

    This will be true only if we insist on treating it as a good. If nstead we mandadted free information this clearly would not be so.

    >information will always cost something to create, and those that put their resources into it should be the ones to profit from it.

    I agree, however, it does not follow from this principle that they *own* the product of their labour only that they need some compensation. Unlike physical goods where the maker of the good should be able to set his price (if you take a good away from him he no longer has it) no such philosophical justification exists here to say that the compensation he deserves is what the market will bear. In the case of information often some people are compensated far beyond the effort they put in or the amount of money necessery to encourage creation of the product.

    My claim is that the traditional item based model for intellectual property is a poor model for compensation. Instead we need to compensate these people directly from tax money based on some sort of usage/value census.

    >Countries and organisations that have spent their resources on an information infrastructure should feel no need to help others to join it.

    It seems to be a fairly standard moral principle that you should help others. If your friend comes beging for a loan do you say too bad should have worked harder. Of course not you help him out. So what if these countries problems are the result of internal strife...this doesn't make people in those countries any less human or any less deserving of aid. The nationalistic distinction is necesserily a fallacious one. I would rather help a motivated but uneducated and poor farmer in africa than local trailer trash. There is no difference between a ethiopian and a american except where they happen to be born so their should be no moral justification to saying we need to help one but not the other.

    Moreover, intellectual property costs us nothing to offer to these people. I think everyone but the most rabid Ayn Randians will agree with me when I say if you can help someone at no cost to yourself you should indeed help them.

    Now your final argument is that freeing IP won't necesserily help them.

    >just look at all the trouble caused when Britain gave them an Industrial age infrastructure during the days of their Empire.

    Yes, but this also involved britain forcing this infrastructure on them. If we meerly free up information for their use we never need to do anything to them. In fact as it is freely availible for everyone to use we meerly put them at the same place as everyone else.

    While you are correct that to some extent they need to develop their own infrastructure this does not mean they need to reinvent the wheel. Japan has managed to prosper not because we told them to go back and rework all of our science and research but because things the western world had already solved were made availible to them. As a result we are both better off (they have a higher standard of living and we exchange goods allowing them to be made more efficently).

    This is one of the largest problems with IP is that it forces a huge waste of human capital as companies and countries recreate the same things over and over again. How often do you think people in the corporate world recode the same functions again and again. This is the secret to open source success...not that our coders are better or work more but that we can reuse the code that has been previously written.

    Furthermore the economic discrimination about IP is not just country to country but alsso intra-country. I don;t suppose you would argue that the poor in the US should have to build their own infrastructure to reap the benifits of our modern world.

    We live in an age of gross usrplus it is time to find something better to do than amass more for personal gain.
  • Thomas Jefferson had a number of things to say about education which can basically be sumed up as, education is the cornerstone of a free society. Without an educated population no society can be free. I agree that various third world nations are shackled by various forms of ignorance. Some are bound in traditions some are bound by their governments who realized that keeping their populations uneducated was crucial in order for the regime to stay in power. That is exactly why the world needs these sort of actions. Without free information there cannot be education and no true freedom. If we do not advocate and actively pursue free global information we are denying some the populations the only tools that would be available to them in order to be free themselves. You are basically saying that these people do not deserve freedom because they are not intellecutally free. Aparently if they desreved freedom they would already be free. And... you would deny them the access to infromation necessary to be free. That does not sound so much harsh as arrogant. If corporations are allowed to dominate information and that access to information then there will never be a time for "these things" to happen on their own in third world countries. Let us also not forget that many of the worlds first world nations became so at the expense of what are now third world nations. There is something owed there.
  • Where is the Greater Theft? Is it in making a copy, in my mind or speech, or is it in denying my right to do so?

    The notion of Property makes no sense where there is no scarcity. Society's right to limit what I say or do ends when saying-or-doing ceases to become harmful. All that is left for "Intellectual Property Rights" to protect is a residual right (Intellectual Rent) that is leftover from a former state of affairs


    I think you have it all wrong......When a programmer releases a piece of software, and is charging money, you are paying for the hours and hours that went into the product.(this also goes for music and movies). Art,programs,etc. are not Free Speech. If that was the case, hacking someone's website and putting up a political message would be free speech, because "Internet Files aren't considered property".

    Most linux users MUST use Microsoft products daily, otherwise their breakup wouldn't matter. Remember..."linux/open-source is better than any microsoft product". If that were the case, linux wouldn't need help from the government for popularity.

    How is Forcing me to open my source Free speech? it's not. Free speech is allowing both sides of the argument([ie] open/closed/free/paid programs). It's not biased in any way.


    ---- Freedom isn't a one-way Street
  • think of this, you don't see people advocating the closing of ALL source, now do you. It proves the biased beliefs of The vast majority of Slashdot.
  • by jxxx ( 88447 )
    couple things about this proposal:
    1) heroes: Richard Stallman. Contributor: Richard Stallman
    Sorry, just bugs me.

    2) heroes: librarians. No, not as a general rule, sorry.
    They're like cops. Some are good, some are bad. The job's
    a public servant (for public libraries of course).

    3) potential opponents: Microsoft. Hello? Kerberos extensions.
    Could be predating the latest incident I suppose.

    4) It says nice things. Like on a playground. Nothing new. Who is
    the target here?
  • by vlax ( 1809 ) on Friday May 12, 2000 @09:49AM (#1077108)
    I approve and appreciate the sentiment behind this proposal, although in the end it's a bit like approving of Mom, the flag and apple pie.

    The devil is in the details, and this Oxfam document is sparse on those. Some of them are simply parts of existing activist programmes: a hostility towards WIPO and WTO that is partially, but not wholly, merited, encouraging Open Sourse ideas and use, a demand for patent reform particularly with regard to biotechnology. Citing this new French legal proposal to require governments to favour open source and computing standards in contracting is novel, and a good thing.

    However, intellectual property reform is a very painful issue. It is one thing to say that the existing system is dysfunctional, it's quite another to propose alternatives. The initial intent of patents was to insure that inventions would eventually enter the public domain by offering that the inventor a monopoly on its use for a fixed time. For all the grousing, I've seen few real plans for a new IP scheme. The only thing I've seen that seems realistic to me is to reduce the length of patent and copyright protections, and possibly to give different kinds of patents different lengths and abolishing some kinds of patents and ownership rights with regard to biology and software. Before lending my support the cause of patent reform, I need to see a real programme.

    Copyright globally corresponds to the life of the author, plus a few more years, or 70-90 years for works-for-hire. Shortening those protections very much is a lost battle, those norms have been in place in most of the world for a very long time. Acting to make sure they aren't extended any further is a better platform. (Disney basically bought an extra 20 years of ownership of Mickey Mouse by paying off Congressmen in the '98 elections.) The expansion of fair-use and enshrining some sort of educational and library exemption is another viable goal. Beyond that, I'm not sure how much can genuinely be done about copyrights.

    Open disclosure of WIPO and WTO processes is probably a good thing, within limits. Part of what the WTO exists to protect is the ability of members to come to an agreement before taking trade issues to arbitration. That can be useful and important.

    Before lighting in too hard on the WTO, take a look at the treaty itself. It enshrines quite a few exemptions for the third world. A winable fight might be to get some of those exemptions expanded rather than trying to undermine the organisation completely.

    The importance of industrial standards is a good cause to rally around, even if it isn't a very romantic one. Their function is to ensure that open, easily obtainable standards apply to products and services, favouring third world industries in the same way that open Internet and computing standards favour small, non-Microsoft vendors. One of the functions of the WTO is to ensure that standards enacted by governments are open and available, so that countries can't create barriers to entry of exactly the kind Microsoft makes.

    A good look at the global standards process would be a good education for a activist with this kind of agenda.

    Reforms of this type will take place in an international arena in the future. Abolishing the WIPO and WTO just moves the problem to some new international organisation. Hijacking the existing institutions has often proved more effective for revolutionaires.

    The Left has always had cosmopolitanism on its side, and it bothers me to see new nationalisms and isolationisms become causes with activist support. Global entitiies have played an important role in the liberal causes of the past, and they can again in the future.
  • Is growing inequality a problem? Seems everybody assume that some group of people controlling more resources than others is a bad bad thing. Is it?

    Even we would like the world to be more equal, sometimes you give the poor country the right to access informations does not neccessary help. Without a well established legal, political, economical system, only those with more resources can really benefitted from information. I don't see, without proper property right definition under legal system, how can a farmer in a poor Africa country benefitted by having the information of the most advanced biotechnology Americans? It isn't feasible for them to apply the information, and there's no way they can sell the information.

    No matter how you hate the western society, we take it for granted for the invisible infrastructure we are living in.
  • The democratic and legal tradition of the Western Democracies treats Property and Ideas as two very different things. Property is treated as a scarce resource (object) that can be transferred from a buyer to a seller, whereas Ideas are treated as private and not shareable at a distance, except via expensive, tangible media--themselves a form of Property.

    Electronic media blur the underlying assumptions built into our Society and its Laws. The new technologies make Ideas (in the form of mathematical algorithms) tangible and transferable; at the same time, they make intellectual property--licenses, copyrights--less scarce and hence less like objects and more like Ideas.

    The net result is that Ideas are becoming more like Property. If we start with the assumption that copying is hard, then "violating intellectual property rights" looks like a form of theft. But Property itself is theft of a sort, as is well known, albeit a regulated and social form of theft. We tolerate this denial of the right we would otherwise have to use our common resources, in order to secure each for ourselves the scare, tangible resources we need to live. But when there is no harm in my thinking or saying something, other than the fact you have have had the same thought or said the same thing, then Intellectual Property has become the theft--it steals my right to think and say what I want.

    Where is the Greater Theft? Is it in making a copy, in my mind or speech, or is it in denying my right to do so?

    The notion of Property makes no sense where there is no scarcity. Society's right to limit what I say or do ends when saying-or-doing ceases to become harmful. All that is left for "Intellectual Property Rights" to protect is a residual right (Intellectual Rent) that is leftover from a former state of affairs.

    We need to re-assert that the right to share ideas and thoughts takes primacy over these residual Intellectual Rents. In less than a year, events--an increase in software patent rates from hundred per year to tens of thousands, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), and the legal actions of certain large corporations--have conspired to create a very chilling environment for Freedom of the Intellect, much less Freedom of Speech.

    Outside the Western Democracies, all the issues that have arisen in the past over Property rights will re-surface. The Thoraeu/Ghandi/King style of resistance to the inequitable and entrenched rights of Idea Owners will have to be re-invented--only this time, non-violent resistance will be the Act of Thinking or Saying what you want to, or for some, Thinking and Doing what you need to do in order to make a living!
    =googol= In mundo, omnibus servibus, concidentes soli liberi

  • "Not much use to the starving" is a common response to suggestions that information is critical to the poorest people. There are two key points here:

    1. Development isn't just about handing out food.

    In humanitarian emergencies aid/development agencies often just provide water, food, medicines, and so forth. Information matters here, but perhaps not so much.

    But development agencies also do work to try and address the longer-term causes of poverty. In this work, handouts are avoided - the idea is to provide tools, education, skills, connections, and knowledge that will still be useful when the aid agency disappears after a year's funding. There's a famous saying along the lines of "give someone a fish and you feed him for a day; give them a net and you give them a tool they can use for a year; teach them a new fishing method and they have something they can use for life - or until a multinational steals or poisons their fishing grounds or fishes out the area...." In this kind of work, information is absolutely critical - and if you're trying to avoid creating dependencies, a central core of public free information is really important.

    2. Even if broader information (and computers) are only of minimal use to (say) illiterate women organising in an Indian village, such things would be of great benefit to the local organisations trying to help them.

    For example, I visited one project in India where an organisation called SWAPNA was setting up micro-credit saving circles in Indian villages in southern Maharashtra. They were organising women would organise in groups of twenty and each try to save 20 rupee -- maybe 50c -- a month, which would then be pooled to give them a resource to draw on in medical emergencies, ceremonies, etc. (Based on the idea pioneered by the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh.) The organised saving circles were also used as a way of providing sanitation and health information.

    Now computers might be useless to the individual women, but SWAPNA, the organisation running the project, could really have used one. Given that their budget was maybe US$6000/year (to employ a dozen staff working in maybe fifty villages, with maybe 1500 women), old hardware running DOS or Linux and doing UUCP to connect to the Net and to other such organisations... that has real potential.

    A write up of my trip to India [danny.oz.au] (with some notes on IT possibilities).

    Danny.

  • Initially interested in how something could be done along those ideas, my eyes glazed over when I started looking at the referenced document. Clearly, it's not adressed to the general public or to anyone who knows much about the "new" economy. Who reads this kind of boilerplate, party-line prose?

    'Knowledge is now the critical component to production, and access to it represents a key divide between rich and poor.' (OI ACC Planning
    Papers).


    Oo, that's a deep insight isn't it. Glad they quoted the exact formulation by OI ACC, whoever or whatever it is.

    This proposal specifically addresses the OI Global SCO 4.1

    Gee that's nice. I guess bureaucrats can be as cryptic as geeks. But if this is a call to thought or action, it should be thought-provoking and inspiring, not as deadening as a 3-hour Party Chairman speech.

    Heroes: Richard Stallman, Indigenous rights movements, Librarians.

    A queer, sparse list, suggesting they're just tagging along to a new bandwagon they saw passing by. Or hopefully this is just a rough draft, 'cause it's too long and not interesting enough.

    Sorry to be grumpy, but if you want to influence people outside your narrow circle (that is the whole point, no?), I suspect you need to make your argument in a more user-friendly way.
  • So if I understand this correctly: if I come up with an idea for a new type of steel which will revolutionize the railroad industry, and I keep it all to my greedy self, I am harming the "global public good"? If I have the cure for AIDS locked up in my head and I don't share it, I am stealing something that belongs to "the people"?

    The scarcity argument doesn't work, because ideas ARE scarce. Someone has to come up with them. If all we did was sit around and reap the benefits of an idea's tangible repercussions, well, we wouldn't reap dog crap because no one would've had any new ideas to begin with.

    The key in determining what thought is free and what is protected depends on the type of idea. If I come up with a catchy slogan, I can't claim copyright on the individual words, but I CAN (legally and morally) claim copyright on that particular arrangement of words. Yet I cannot claim copyright on the idea conveyed. For instance, I could come up with a slogan for buying beef jerky and stake a claim on it, but I cannot claim copyright on the notion of buying beef jerky.

    There is a point to this; here it comes.

    Products that are primarily intellectual (software is often cited as such) are subject to the same moral rules in regards to property as any other product of the human mind. I can't claim property on the right to smelt steel; however, I can claim as property a particular METHOD of smelting steel (the Bessemer Process, for example).

    Likewise with software. I can't claim copyright on what a piece of software DOES, but on how it is implemented. I can't own an object-oriented language; I can, however, own a compiler.

    Free stuff is only free so long as it does not infringe on the individual rights of others; just because its publicly available doesn't mean you're not necessarily improperly expropriating the blood, sweat and tears of someone else.

    bry m.
    "its always in the last place you look."
    "well duh. you'd be pretty stupid to keep looking after you've found it."
  • As Ayn Rand once said: 'Helping others will only give those others an advantage with which they can destroy you.' Anyone who doesn't agree completely with Rand is no better than the vile commies she stood up to.

    All good rational people know that helping others is not a virtue. How can it be a virtue if I don't enjoy doing it? If living in a stark impersonal world devoid of altruistic friendship and basic emotional interaction was good enough for Rand's fictional characters, then by gum, it's good enough for me.

    You are a dipshit, as evidenced by quoting Rand. Obviously helping others can be contrued as helping yourself, moron. Capitalism doesn't have any sort of monopoly on egoist ethics; anarchists, who have always benn socialist, are also strongly egoistic.

    Perhaps you help others because it makes you feel good. Perhaps you help the oppressed because you realize, correctly, that your interests are bound up in theirs.

    The old IWW labor slogan, "An injury to one is an injury to us all" is profoundly egoistic, yet has nothing to do with the narrow sort of vile self interest practiced by an organization which is soley dedicated to the quest for profit.

  • really sorry, I didn't realize you were joking. Your post really doesn't sound too different from real life Randites until the last sentence.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    improperly expropriating the blood, sweat and tears of someone else.

    So smarty-pants did you come up with the cure for AIDS all on your own?

    Didn't just sneak a little look at the latest published scientfic papers, or even at a basic biology text?

    Did you perhaps utilse mathematics in your 'discovery'?

    You thief you.

    Standing on the shoulders of giants to stick your hand in the till.

    Get over your own brilliance and get on with the species!

    Regards
    James Howison [mailto]
    Freelance Propagandist [freelancepropaganda.com]

  • This is a tired argument.

    I think it's pretty clear that many creative people, whether artists, scientists, programmers, etc. are not "in it for the money".

    However if these people can't make a living at what they do because there is no more guaranteed remuneration for their work ("information is free, you know"), then yes, there will be fewer artists, scientists, and programmers. People will do "other things" to make a living. And the tragedy is that society would be better off if these talented individuals focused ALL of their efforts on their labour of love: science, art, etc.

    This isn't about a ruling class, this is about simple economics. There is a scarcity of skill and talent in the world, and there always will be.

  • IMHO, information is a market good with some characteristics of a public good.

    It is a market good because there is still a principle of scarcity at work: the scarcity of skill & talent to make these works.

    It is a public good because the cost of duplication is negligible and information is an "experience product", meaning you don't know if you want it until you have it.

    However, it does not follow that completely zero-cost copying should be always allowed. Again, because there are economic costs involved with creating information, these costs must be covered to ensure that demand is satiated. The supply of information, in other words, is not unlimited because the only relevant supply is that of NEW WORKS. Not re-runs.

    So, basically, the freedom to spread information without burden of copyright could become reality if and only if there is a mechanism in place to guarantee remuneration at some point after a person acquires such information, if the author (or publisher) so wishes... If such a mechanism comes in to place, it's harder to justify that an author should be able to excercise complete control over an intellectual work's distribution.

    Developing countries, students, etc. do have viable arguments for "lower cost" access to information. But it does not follow that every person in the world will all of a sudden become a scientific genius if only they had free (gratis) access to the information out there. There *always* will be a scarcity of skill and talent.

  • Why can't sales & marketing be counted as costs of creating an intellectual work? If you create something, and no one knows about it, what good is that?

    Furthermore, even if information were free, why would such costs go away?

    These costs need to be covered. We need a mechanism to ensure they are covered. Some form (perhaps not today's) of intellectual property is the solution to this.

  • Just a clarification. I think I understand you, but whenever people moan about "profit", I wonder where they're coming from.

    Profit is not self-interest. It is the primary economic objective an organization must fulfill if it is to stay in business.

    A company that exists solely to make profit is a company devoid of purpose or passion, and has little reason to exist. However, a bankrupt company does no one any good.

    Basically, a company without a purpose is not going to survive much longer given the rising level of competition. General Motors is probably the biggest example of a company in it "only for the money" that is failing quite fast.

  • Seems pretty sane, I think! Information is really the new power, if it ever wasn't.
  • I'm gonna sue you bastards, that's a net.geek trade secret! Now in a week Katz will write something about it and it'll be all over. =)

    That aside, this is quite abit like stating the obvious. In so many words, you can say that "information is power". All geeks I know instinctively know this and have a sense of duty in sharing both their knowledge of computers, and the information that travels through that medium. I'd go as far as to say it is a conscious and active attack against the "intellectual property" pillars of modern society - it is anti-ethical to geeks to lock information up. This is borne out through a reflex that most of us have to be peers amongst each other - nobody is superior. In light of that, it is obvious that information must be shared to ensure everybody remains equal.

    So while research doesn't add anything new to the table, it may be helpful in convincing our less-enlightened "normals" out in the Real World. I think we've made it over the first hurdle - most people got a taste of free information with the various free news sites - nytimes, cnn, c|net, the "freer" online shopping - no taxes, and free music courtesy of napster, amongst other things that have since become integrated into their lives. I know it has gone mainstream.. my mom uses Napster now and reads her morning news and traffic online. Amazing the progress we have made...

  • But the quarter of the worlds population who earn less yearly than MS Word's monetary cost are not going to care about the internet or access to information when their children are starving while they assemble sports equipment.

    I hear this alot - "movement X is wrong because it puts itself above feeding the hungry." Let me put some rationale behind this: You need to pick things big enough to matter and small enough to win. I like RMS' statement on that, which I will paraphrase - "there were already plenty of people trying to feed the hungry". I pick my battles carefully - I want to make a difference.. I want to be able to point to something and say "I did that". Ensuring freedom of information is something I can do that will make a difference.. and is something which matters to alot of people whether they know it or not.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This issue is one that will become increasingly important in the future as we are currently in the last throes of the Industrial Age and we're now moving into the so-called "Information Age", in which information will become the most valuable commodity of them all. However we should look at this issue clearly, without resorting to dogmatic arguments from Industrial Age philosophies that won't count in this "new era".

    Since information will become a commodity it will be governed by the laws of supply and demand in much the same way as any other product. However there are important differences, in that the supply is potentially infinite once the act of creation has occured. This is what is the cause of the current bitter fighting between Napster advocates and the RIAA - the fact that this important difference has not truly been accepted by the RIAA (and MPAA as well) yet.

    However despite the infinite supply, information still has to come from somewhere, and it takes time, effort and resources to produce. This is what the Napster crowd do not seem to realise - information will always cost something to create, and those that put their resources into it should be the ones to profit from it.

    Another key difference between the Industrial and Information ages is the cost in resources of creating a commodity. Information is far cheaper to create than a physical product, and so it requires little infrastructure to produce.

    The whole point of this campaign is that poorer countries are falling behind in the information "revolution". Of course they are, because they are hampered by religious, social and political problems, not because they don't have the resources to generate information. If they could get themselves sorted out then they could join the First World Web whenever they wanted to.

    Countries and organisations that have spent their resources on an information infrastructure should feel no need to help others to join it. The poorer countries of the world are already far too dependent upon handouts from the West, and should be encouraged to sort out their problems on their own before joining the rest of us in the Information Age. If we try and force them they will resist - just look at all the trouble caused when Britain gave them an Industrial age infrastructure during the days of their Empire.

    No, I think that any global moves towards increasing the information infrastructure are both premature and unwarranted. It seems a harsh thing to say, but better for these things to happen for themselves in their own time.

  • I should add to my previous post: The issue is really ownership, isn't it? I think that shows itself in many ways, not least of which is file compatibility. I mean, forget breaking up M$, just force them to use XML for all their file formats. This returns control of information to the author of the files, leaving them free to move to other apps, and other devlopers can write the appropriate XSLT. On the other hand, we know that information is power. It has always been thus - state secrets for example.
  • Listed as a hero: Richard Stallman
    Listed as a contributor: Richard Stallman

    Hrmph.

    --

  • Kudos to Danny for proposing this. But the quarter of the worlds population who earn less yearly than MS Word's monetary cost are not going to care about the internet or access to information when their children are starving while they assemble sports equipment.

    However, the part about protecting indigenous people's pre-existing rights to information is very important. Often a company will quite literally steal a technology (often bio) that rightly belongs to a native people.
  • are not going to care about the internet or access to information when their children are starving while they assemble sports equipment.

    Information won't solve all problems at once, but it is very important. If they wan't a better live they will have to improve their methods of producing goods, education and thus information is essential for that.

    Free information will also prevent people from exploiting them, just look at the recent things around AIDS drugs.

    Jeroen

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in this case has a very 18th Century view of which Rights should be asserted.

    The critical issue is balancing Public Good and Private Good. This balance needs to be re-thought in the light of technology that makes it possible to produce copies at no cost.

    I think this clause of the UDHR says to much here about property rights and not enough about intellectual freedom. The balancing point has changed.

    Remember that before "Free Trade" in the 18th/19th Century, certain people, Guilds, local Governments, etc. had a "Right" to collect tolls and intercept commerce. Then society (in a series of Revolutions) decided those "rights" were a bad thing.

    =googol=
    in mundo, omnibus servibus, concidentes soli liberi
  • > This issue is one that will become increasingly
    > important in the future as we are currently in
    > the last throes of the Industrial Age and
    > we're now moving into the so-called
    > "Information Age", in which information will
    > become the most valuable commodity of them all.

    I see this written *so* often and I still don't know what it means or if I believe it.

    In particular I'm sure sex will remain the most valuable commodity of them all for a long time to come yet...

    ;-)
  • Yet again I am forced to slap my bald pate and say 'Doh! It was so obvious'.

    As obvious as advcating free software as a means to prevent descrimination against the third world in the development of computer skills. We were just looking at the issue from too narrow a viewpoint.

    Why can third world countries produce world class scientists? Because the information, which is the fundamental resource, is free to varying extents. (Even when you can't afford the journal, you can always send a postcard to the author of a paper asking for a reprint).

    If more information is made available, then there is the potential for third world developer to produce world-class innovations in technology, engineering, and all sorts of other fields. In the long term hopefully correcting the wealth imbalence. Everyone benefits.

    OK, that is a naive oversimplification, but the principle is there.
  • And this is part of a larger and longer struggle to re-establish the priority of "public good" on a par with "individual rights" and "economic development", the fight against the notion that everything of value of should be owned/exploited by some person or corporation. It seems as though grown-ups need to be re-taught how to share. This struggle is most obviously being played out in the Internet development battles, but also in the fight between "environmentalism" and the "property rights" movement. Some people seem to think that the solution to the "Tragedy of the Commons" [aol.com] is the dissolution of the commons, while others think it's better stewardship thereof.
  • by isaac ( 2852 ) on Friday May 12, 2000 @11:10AM (#1077133)
    On one side, information wants to be free!!!!

    And we can all live in David Brin's Transparent society. And you can all have no privacy. And nobody gets rewarded for intellectual property they produce, because it's a lot easier to just make a copy. And nobody spends their time making music anymore, because they can't afford to. And nobody spends their time writing books anymore, because they can't afford to. And I can spy on you making out with your girlfriend because "hey, it's just information in digital form."

    Riiiight. And all those scientists out there doing basic research are in it for the money. And all those avaricious free-software developers. And anyhow, we know that the best works of art are always the most commercially successful, and are always created to be sold. And it's right and proper that an idea should be owned exclusively, despite the fact that there's no principle of scarcity at work.

    You're starting with a set of assumptions that not everyone shares; personally, I think it's pretty clear that those in power seek to retain and extend their power by control over ideas; at every turn, those who have done so have stifled the progress of humanity as a whole, by locking knowledge away, for the exclusive use of the privileged class.

    -Isaac

  • The legal disctinction is clear and has been sicne the first Copyright laws were passed.

    Copyright laws specificly target only TANGIBLE expression. An idea is by definition an intangible.

    A piece of software embodies the ideas behind it the same way a novel embodies the idea of the story, no more and no less.

    If your going to be a socialist and argue "propety is theaft" at least be honest about it... and give up YOUR property.

  • by samael ( 12612 ) <Andrew@Ducker.org.uk> on Friday May 12, 2000 @04:17AM (#1077135) Homepage
    It's a matter of balance.

    On one side, information wants to be free!!!!
    And we can all live in David Brin's Transparent society. And you can all have no privacy. And nobody gets rewarded for intellectual property they produce, because it's a lot easier to just make a copy. And nobody spends their time making music anymore, because they can't afford to. And nobody spends their time writing books anymore, because they can't afford to. And I can spy on you making out with your girlfriend because "hey, it's just information in digital form."

    How far do we go?

    How far down this road do you want to go
  • I think what I am talking about will become clearer when someone tells you that you can't use the "xor" operator in your program, because they hold the rights to that logical bit combination in that context.

    Like fiat money, "intellectual property" is mostly an pleasant fiction or convention that we all agree on.

    Yes, that is what legal concepts say today and yes that is how we earn our living today. Other bases for earning a living can and will be found, just as people figured out how to do commerce without collecting tolls.

    We must invent that society, because information will out, our toys notions of Intellectual Property or not.

    =googol=
    in mundo, omnibus servibus, concidentes soli liberi.

    In a world where everyone is a slave, only those who hack apart [their chains] are free.
  • Countries and organisations that have spent their resources on an information infrastructure should feel no need to help others to join it. The poorer countries of the world are already far too dependent upon handouts from the West, and should be encouraged to sort out their problems on their own before joining the rest of us in the Information Age. If we try and force them they will resist - just look at all the trouble caused when Britain gave them an Industrial age infrastructure during the days of their Empire.

    You are forgetting a very important thing: The fact that those countries are poor is a direct result of abuse by the 'western world'. They might have gotten an infrastructure a hundred years ago, but they didn't get the education to use it. It was used by the british for the british!

    By the way, not only the british were bad guys, nearly every country that is now part of the 'great western world' did this or is still doing it.

    Jeroen

  • "Countries and organisations that have spent their resources on an information infrastructure should feel no need to help others to join it. The poorer countries of the world are already far too dependent upon handouts from the West, and should be encouraged to sort out their problems on their own before joining the rest of us in the Information Age." Oh, I can't accept this. This _whole_ argument breaks down when we get past the "good government, bad government" politics and get down to the atoms of said governments (good and bad) -- namely, the _people_. I ask you, would you apply this same argument to other resources, like water or food? To say "sort your own problems out before you think about joining us" seems almost incomprehensibly evil when these are the resources in need. The internet, free software and freely available technical- and bio-information may not often be needed to feed your family or your children, but there is much more to being alive than eating and drinking. To advocate any ideal that separates people, whether the separator is color, religion, class, or access, etc., is quite hard for me to stomach; walls are usually bad things. Those of us lucky enough to be born in the richer nations should do everything possible to close the gap; after all, we didn't _do_ anything to be born where we were born. We had no say in it, and neither did the billions born in less opportunistic environments. Regards, John
  • I can't claim copyright on what a piece of software DOES, but on how it is implemented.

    But you can buy a patent from the USPTO [uspto.gov].

    I can't own an object-oriented language; I can, however, own a compiler.

    You can also claim copyright on an MP3 compi^H^H^H^H^Hencoder, but Fraunhofer has a patent on the MP3 language.

  • If it were possible to xerox land--if I could create land somewhere else by scanning your land--people would argue that part of their rights in their land included there right to enjoy the uniqueness of the particular contours and structures on their land and demand that you license them.

    The situation might look very different if you had no land of your own and could only get it by copying existing land.

    =googol=
  • This type of broader outlook on information sharing and the benefits of having more open communication are so important to the future of every person on the planet as individuals. When all around us we see giant corporations and media conglomorates further controlling and dictating what the average person has access to - particularly in the news - there is an increasing need for information to be made freely available.

    There was a front-page article in yesterday's Boston Globe about how Pfizer successfully hid evidence that Prozac caused a small but statistically significant number of otherwise happy people to become suicidal. This news is only now coming to light -- after the drug has been out for about a decade!

    More freedom of information, more freedom of press, more protection from evil corporate greed.

  • Not surprisingly, a whole lot of posting is about what legal rights we have or don't in our ideas and works. lots of slashdoters are preparing hard for their upcoming turn as justices on the supreme court bench.
    Legal interpretation, which deals with figuring out the necessaity of the present, has unfortunately a numbing effect on a higher intellectual task, inventing the possible in the future.
    The trend is clearly towards the commodification of knowledge. producing new information becomes more expensives ( try sequencing the Genome at home) rather than cheaper. Distribution becomes cheaper for high volume, inviting economies of scale. can we do something about it? maybe we can start by thinking harder.
    Do we need copyright protection? Should we hold the right to restrict access to our own work? is it to our benefit? We have a visceral sense that we ought to have that right, and there is also the economic concern that we need to pay people to spend their effort producing knowledge.

    Do copyright benefit producers? maybe, but the answear is not so easy because in the commoditized economy of knowledge knowledge producers are themselves a commodity. in the pharmaceutical lab, the university, the recording studio, knowledge laborers produce knowledge goods that are then owned and sold by the the owners of the real capital. How many people know the name of Goofy's and Micky creators and how many know the name of Michael Eisner?

    What happened if we did copyright away. I don't know, by I am not sure at all that the producers of knowledge will suffer. It might be that being unable to sell a durable good, their vanishing but inalienable momentary performance will become literally priceless. Would you pay less to see a good dilbert cartoon if everybody could sell dilbert cartoons? or will you just be able to get better cartoons for your money?
    It would be a different economy, e.g. people will be hard pressed with finding way to capitalize on their intellectual performance in the short term before one has the chance of copying it. But there are good reasons to believe that we all be better off. for a start, the use of information will increase and so the knowledge economy will accelerate.

    But nobody will come up with innovative ideas?
    Let's see, Joyce wouldn't have written short stories if he didn't own copyright because he couldn't make a buck on them. Grisham's fat royalties will be hurt, he will earn less, though he will still be able to make a living as a writer. What is wrong with that? We want plumbers to make a living, but we are not concerned that plumbers cannot become multimillioners. So we don't pass laws that give plumbers legal monopolies. As long as writers, inventors and artists can make a living we don't owe them more.
    What about technology? Compuserve would not have bothered to develop the effective gif format if they couldn't patent it? Why, I thought you develop a compression algorithm because you want to compress things, not because you want to sell things--they would have developed it anyway.

    The common good is often expensive. So we pay to get it. We want, for example, to lure inventors away for secrecy. that is a good justification for paying them to publish their ideas. But present day patent rights pay far beyond what is necessary ( meaning simply, inventors would have published inventions for a fraction of it). Perhaps, in the marketist push of the time ( e-bay , priceline) someone can come out with a scheme to let markets in monopolistic protection determine how much protection an invention gets from the legal system? e-patent.org anyone ???

    perhaps a system where patents are financial instruments ( kind of bonds), that enjoy governmental dividend in proportion to how much they are cited by future patents, but which must cite ( and pay for each citation) all previous patents within a time frame.
    ( Consider this statement prior art )

  • It seems to be a fairly standard moral principle that you should help others.

    Oh sure, standard among unwashed hippie mystic freaks. Anyone with even the slightest amount of love for Reason can see that the only person one should act to benefit is one's self. After all, helping one's self brings clear benefit, while gaining happiness by helping others is completely irrational.

    As Ayn Rand [spacemoose.com] once said: 'Helping others will only give those others an advantage with which they can destroy you.' Anyone who doesn't agree completely with Rand is no better than the vile commies she stood up to.

    All good rational people know that helping others is not a virtue. How can it be a virtue if I don't enjoy doing it? If living in a stark impersonal world devoid of altruistic friendship and basic emotional interaction was good enough for Rand's fictional characters, then by gum, it's good enough for me.


    --

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