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The Almighty Buck

Do Away with Copyrights? 163

GroundBounce writes "Fortune.com has an opinion article in which Stuart Allsop proposes, among other things, completely elimniating government protection for intellectual property. In support of his argument, he points to cases (including Linux) where people have made money on unprotected IP, and the fact that copying can't really be prevented anyway. He also proposes removing copyright protection from Windows98 and Office as a way of dealing with the MS monopoly. "
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Do Away with Copyrights?

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    The mention of Linux as software that has prospered without copyright is completely wrong. Linux is most definitely copyrighted. The GPL is founded on the assumption the author has a copyright on the software. If the software were not copyrighted, there could be no license at all, and certainly not the viral, this-code-will-always-be-free provisions that the GPL incorporates.

    Furthermore, the name "Linux" is copyrighted to Linus. Thus, anybody can use Linux code within the provisions of the GPL, but only Linus can call it "Linux," thus giving us a way of telling which Linux is "real."

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The problem with using copyright (or the current patent form) for software is the length of time the copyright lasts. In the rapidly changing computer world, granting someone a copyright for anything longer than ten years is virtually granting a monopoly forever. Probably no software is being sold that is ten years old, so it should just enter the public domain at that point. Or even earlier. The patent laws are more reasonable for software, because they were created for technology, while copyrights were basically created to protect "artistic works". A book from five hundred years ago might still be a good read, but a car? Yet a car from ten years ago still does basically what a new one does. A ten year old program rarely does. Yet we give programs the protection of books.

    As stated before, I don't know the duration a patent remains in effect, but it seems a 3 year patent for software would allow the companies to make money and would allow the software to enter the public domain before it was completely obsolete.
  • Capatalism hasn't completely killed itself off yet but it's time is near.

    Perhaps I'm mistaken, but aren't copyrights, patents, and other things associated with intellectual property protected by the government, and thus in a laissez-faire capitalistic market would not exist? In which case this would cause products to be forced to stand on their own merits and either be the best example of their niche or be lose out to a better competitor? In which case the question of Microsoft vs. Linux wouldn't exist, because if we really, truly, wanted to copy Windows or at least write an equivalent GUI platform or emulator using its APIs, we would no longer be restrained by such things as the illegality (in some areas) of reverse engineering? Or perhaps Microsoft would have never ascended to its position in the market because someone else would have taken their designed and improved it over its current form? Just something to think about...

  • Fine, let's just abolish all libraries, then. After all, we're all capable of creating better ideas than anything that's come before us, with absolutely no previous knowledge or learning. Who needs old ideas? They just hinder us and prevent us from innovating.

  • Posted by hrearden:

    PErhaps we should get rid of LAnd titles too, and all property rights. Whats the difference between a copyright and a deed? Little. Conceptually, they both represent effort.

    Stuart is just a mouth of the times - if Buddism was an up-and-coming way of life, he would tout that too.

    I shall beat him with my Hardcover "Atlas Shrugged" - it would be worth it.
  • But even if copyright laws were removed, wouldn't it still be possible for companies like MS to keep requiring customers to sign license agreements? When you purchess and install a piece of software, you agree to their license, which says (among other things) that you're not allowed to share the software with other people. So, at least when it comes to software, this wouldn't make a difference, would it?

    Still, I do agree with the article -- it's time we start thinking about why we have copyright laws and if they should be changed/removed, and in that case, in what way.

  • Some of the arguments are reasonable here, but others are uninformed, and therefore fail. All the arguments about companies who produce proprietary software "stealing" open source software only apply to BSD-style licenses. If they try that with the GPL, they'll get sued. :)

    Also, there is no reason why improving open software would lead to a confusing number of versions. Patches are incorporated by maintainers, and extra features can always be turned into modules, or options in the makefile.

    There aren't 18 incompatible versions of the linux-kernel source tree, just a couple being modified at the time, clearly marked. People send in their patches, compile their kernels and pick their modules. It's surely less complicated than the many official incompatible versions of DOS/Windows 3.1/Win32s, Windows NT, Windows 95/98, Windows CE, etc., etc. with their conflicting APIs and DLLs with root access and different kernel design....
  • I think this guy is dead right. I think that when people in the future look back on restrictions on our personal freedom, that's what IP law is, they will be baffled at how an intelligent society didn't question it before now. The problem is that people have been brainwashed into looking at information as property. It isn't! It is nothing more than patterns on a piece of paper. The fact that preventing copying is now almost impossible forces the issue, but it is not the reason behind the argument. Companies like Redhat have proved that you can profit without IP protection. Complianing that changing this law will put people out of work is like saying that they shouldn't have done away with prohibition in the 20s as it would have put Al Capone and his employees out of business.


  • Look at Redhat, is that a weekend project? Your defense for I.P law is like arguing that they shouldn't have gotten rid of prohibition in the 20s because it would have but Al Capone and his employees out of business. People whose jobs are founded on unjust laws deserve no protection. And if you that that would put all programmers out of business, think again. I would suggest that only a minority of programmers are involved in application development for applications that are sold to the public.


  • Here's what I wrote him:

    I largely agree with your article ( http://cgi.pathfinder .com/fortune/technology/alsop/index.html [pathfinder.com]) proposing the elimination of intellectual property. I have a few things to add:

    • it needs to be done slowly, over a period of five years or so, to avoid scaring the investors off and risking a backlash.
    • trademark is not intended to grant monopolies as patent and copyright are; it is only intended to allow consumers to reliably identify the folks with which they are doing business. Accordingly, I see no reason to eliminate trademark. (Indeed, most of your arguments pertain only to copyright.)
    • eliminating copyright for books would more effectively promote the copying of books than eliminating copyright for software would promote copying of software. Since the distributed versions of software often don't include source code (books always include ``source code'') some method is needed to promote its publication. I suggest the method that was used for books: copyright, but with a term of 18 months, so it doesn't unduly inhibit copying. Copyright protection would only be granted to those works of software for which source code was on deposit at the Library of Congress; when the copyright expired, the source code would be released to the public.
    • you neglected to detail the harmful effects of current copyright and patent law. Perhaps you didn't have enough space; here are a few:
      • the inevitable creation of harmful monopolies like Microsoft (see http://www.tao.ca/wind/rre/0579.html [www.tao.ca] for more, search for my name); you did mention this briefly, but a reasonable person might conclude, after reading your article, that Microsoft was simply an aberration.
      • the necessity to crack down on freedom of the press in order to maintain copyright. (What's a press? It's a machine for copying speech. How do you maintain copyright in this Brave New World of digital technology? Restrict access to devices for copying speech. Several proposals have already been put forth that do just this, and one of them (the Audio Home Recording Act) has been passed into law in the US.)
      • the ultimate necessity to outlaw private computer-mediated communication in order to detect violations of copyright
      • the high costs to each individual to make sure they aren't violating the law. (In a couple of years, you'll need a J.D. and a couple of paralegals to write a novel computer program without violating any patents.)
      • the chilling effect it has on innovation. (The other way you can avoid violating patents is to not use any techniques that weren't published ten years ago. This won't keep you from getting sued, given the incompetence of the patent office, but it will probably keep you from losing the case. Needless to say, if you can't afford to be sued, you need to find another business to be in. Washing windows is probably a good choice.) This will get worse and worse as more and more patents are granted.

    Some of these evils may be excusable if they produce a greater social good -- like encouraging people to innovate and create by offering them financial rewards -- but the evidence is that they actually do the opposite. (Witness the Internet and Linux.)

    < kragen@pobox.com [mailto]> Kragen Sitaker < http://www.pobox.com/~kragen/ [pobox.com]>
    This is exactly how the World Wide Web works: the HTML files are the pithy description on the paper tape, and your Web browser is Ronald Reagan.
    -- Neal Stephenson, at http://www.cryptonomicon.com/begi nning_print.html [cryptonomicon.com]

  • You write:
    Nobody is going to spend $100 million to make a film if there's no copyright protection. If you're happy reducing the film industry to the level of amateur efforts like 'Star Wars Macbeth' or 'Hardware Wars', then by all means eliminate copyright. Ditto for fiction, music, etc.

    It is worth noting that the original Macbeth was produced without benefit of copyright.

    It is also worth noting that Linux cost more than a billion dollars to make.

    It's hard to predict what people will do in a new situation. But I know I don't want to live in a world like RMS's The Right to Read [gnu.org] world.

  • ...the balance of benefits to society. IP laws are based on the premise that a financial incentive, in the form of a temporary monopoly, is crucial to encourage creativity. In order to provide this monopoly, these laws allow the owner to limit the usefulness of the IP to the general public, assuming that the increased creativity makes up for the decreased utility.

    Our IP system sure seemed to work well in its early days. Society as a whole profited from numerous inventions, because the inventions passed into public use rather rapidly. The monopoly granted by the IP laws often encouraged others to develop new inventions with functionality similar to or better than those already registered, which gave even more public benefit from the competition.

    Now, though, it seems like our IP system has more drawbacks to society than it has benefits. Companies often use IP suits to stifle competition. It's rare to have a competitor successfully come up with an alternative innovation that duplicates the functionality of the original IP. And companies often exploit the temporary monopolies by making deals with competitors that allow them to control technology to an unprecedented degree. I would contend that the drawbacks in the current use of the system overwhelm the benefit of increased incentive to the IP developers.

    What has changed? Why does it seem like there are more drawbacks and less benefits now? I would suggest that there are a number of things that have changed significantly since our current IP system was established.

    1. The areas that are subject to IP are much less tangible than they used to be. It's very straightforward to determine if a physical machine uses the same structure as that listed in a patent, or to find out if a work duplicates the words or notes of a copyrighted work. But when you get into other arenas, it's much more difficult to tell if something truly duplicates the original IP, or if it's just something that provides equivalent functionality.

    2. The IP-granting agencies regularly accept vaguely-written IP applications. The applications can be written this way in an attempt to control not only one specific way of doing things, but also any other functionally-equivalent way. When it's done carefully, this allows companies to supress potential competition.

    3. Companies can register IP for the sole reason of supressing competition, without any intent to develop the technology. Obviously, this can result in less innovation overall.

    4. The increasing system complexity makes it more difficult to determine whether something violates the IP protection, or just provides equivalent functionality. Instead of physical mechanisms or processes with tens to hundreds of components, we are dealing with things like software than can easily have thousands or millions of components. This makes it much more difficult for the IP-granting agencies to determine direct correspondence, especially since they are rarely experts in the field of the IP, which results in a tendency toward determining functional equivalency rather than direct correspondence.

    5. The increasing complexity also makes it more difficult to develop a competing process. Instead of trying to compete, it's often easier to just license the IP from the originator, which gives them even more control over the technology and the competition.

    6. The increasing complexity of our environment makes interoperability critical. When IP protection covers the interfaces, whether we're talking network protocols or SMP standards or document formats, then that provides another barrier to competition. A potential competitor must either try and duplicate the functionality of the interface, using considerable resources, or they must license the interface from the IP-holder, giving their competitor significant control over a critical part of their product. Neither option is attractive.

    7. The increasing complexity also provides a natural market barrier to competing products. Things are so complex now, that it takes a bit of work to learn them to the point where the user is comfortable using them. The public often don't want to spend the extra time to learn a competiting product, even if it promises more effectiveness in the long term.

    8. The increasing complexity [boy, there's a theme here...] also means that new systems must be built on a foundation of previous systems. Since each building block could be under IP protection, it's often easier to re-invent the whole thing. Unfortunately, the additional work involved is a disincentive to innovation. Also, this can result in a slightly incompatible product, which raises another barrier to competition. Even if there are no incompatibilities, the IP-holder can raise the spectre of potential incompatibilities as another barrier to competition.

    I think it's obvious that the overall drawbacks of the current system outweigh the benefits it provides. It's time to re-engineer an IP system that still provides incentives for creativity, and protects inventors from exploitative competition, but that prevents the type of abuse that is rampant today. I think it'd be a Bad Thing to do away with IP protection completely, but we've got to fix the current system so that it prevents abuses and actually does provide benefits to the public.

    When groups like RIAA complain solely about the loss of revenues, then it's pretty obvious that the original intent of encouraging creativity has, sadly, been lost.

  • Removing the copyright protection on Windows will have one effect: more people will use Windows and upgrade to the latest versions. It then follows that since Microsoft is the only one with any real idea of how the APIs really work, that Microsoft apps will increase their foothold. This is a non-solution. Opening the APIs on a fundamental level (read: releasing source code) is the only way for application developers to exist on anything close to the oft-mentioned "level playing field".
  • Furthermore, the name "Linux" is copyrighted to Linus. Thus, anybody can use Linux code within the provisions of the GPL, but only Linus can call it "Linux," thus giving us a way of telling which Linux is "real."

    You're talking about a trademark here, not a copyright. It's totally different. Many people who oppose copyright do not oppose trademarks, though apparently Alsop does.

  • Furthermore, the name "Linux" is copyrighted to Linus. Thus, anybody can use Linux code within the provisions of the GPL, but only Linus can call it "Linux," thus giving us a way of telling which Linux is "real."

    You're talking about a trademark here, not a copyright. It's totally different. Many people who oppose copyright do not oppose trademarks, though apparently Alsop does.

  • by Hallow ( 2706 )
    The whole concept of Intellectual Property is abhorrent to me. The idea that because you think of something, you own it, or at least can charge people to use it.

    Lets look at a what if here. What if there had been intellectual property laws and an enforcement system in place when someone, way back when invented the wheel. And he charged a licensing fee, and wouldn't allow anyone to work on advancing his original design? We could have wound up using big stone wheels even to this day!

    Intellectual Property laws are, well, to be frank, stifling to innovation!

  • If Alsop's saying it, it must be something that helps leverage/maintain the win-stranglehold and would be detrimental to Linux and anything else of computing value.

    You surely degrade /. credibility by linking any thoughts penned by one of the alltime great MS FUDsters.

    Go back and read some of his editorials in Infoworld's past (Petereley now resides in his old space), and see why he most surely would be under strong consideration as the very first inductee to the MS FUDWriters Hall of Fame.
  • For me, the loss of copyright would be felt more in the loss of attribution protection than in distribution protection.

    I don't care if someone copies and passes to a friend a copy of a short story of mine. They can burn it onto CD, put it up on a web site, whatever as long as they don't get money for it. However, if they turn around and try to sell it to Harper Collins, the true benefit of copyright protection comes in. Because the story is attributed to me, only I have the right to sell it and claim it as mine.
  • all you said was "i like the power copyright gives me". you didn't explain why copyright is a good system for running society. you didn't explain why your made up desire to control other people trumps their desire to control themselves.

    information is free.
    the only question is:

  • There is lots of money made in the movie rental industry each year. It is simply not the case that movie theaters will make as much money for the producer with or sans copyrights.

    Besides, without copyrights, J. Bob Smith would legally be able to buy one copy of the film, copy the film as many times as he chooses, and sell it to movie theaters for whatever price he wants. With no copyrights, there's nothing to prevent this. With no copyrights, a movie theater doesn't have to pay royalties to the production company. They just have to get a copy of the film somehow. I see bunches of problems with your aforementioned analogy.
  • Almost everyone here is overlooking a very important pair of points -- that the abolition of copyrights will cause the GPL to go up in a puff of smoke, and that we will not suddenly gain access to MicroSoft's source code.

    It turns out that the only thing keeping MicroSoft from releasing MS/Linux (rewind to April Fools Day for details) is the fact that they can't just take the code and do with it as they please because of the GPL and its legal power thanks to copyright law -- they have to release their modified version back into the source pool. And believe me, they'd love to do to Linux what they started to do to Java.

    The other point that needs to be made is that while there is money to be made in the support and customization of open source software, there is also money to be made in being the One Central Source of a certain piece of software.

    Where do you look to get the latest edition of your favorite Linux distro? One of thousands of places -- anyone who wants to can design, build, and release their own linux distribs, complete with personalized changes to everything.

    Where do you look to get the latest edition of MS Windows (heaven forbid)? MicroSoft or some vendor that they've got some sort of contract with. Even if Windows could be freely copied, it would be impractical to make a custom distribution of Windows without the source code. And lest you think that copyright is the only thing protecting MicroSoft's source code, think again. It actually enjoys trade secret status as well. Trade secret law will never go away, even if patents and copyrights do.

    So, to summarize, the Top 2 Bad Things[tm] That Could Happen To The World If Copyrights Were Abolished are:

    1) proprietary versions of your favorite open source software
    2) everything that was proprietary before is still proprietary

    I know this is getting long, but it's also important to point out that with no copyrights, there's no way for authors to insist that they get credit for their works. I think the most simple copyright messages I have ever seen include at least a "this message has to stay here" or a "mention my name to use my code" clause. If these suddenly have no legal standing because copyright law is abolished, I could start pawning copies of anything off as my own work.
  • If nobody else can support the product, it means nobody can use it as well. That mistake will correct itself given a little time.

    I think it's a little simplistic to say that the problem of open-source vs closed-source is congruent to the problem of copyright vs non-copyright. There is significant overlap but I think there is a valuable place for each of the proprietary, freely-available, open-source and closed-source combinations.
  • Red Hat relies heavily on trademark protection. They don't use patents or copyrights, but they do use trademarks quite aggressively.

    I don't know how trademark protection got into this discussion. There is a requirement that the identities of proprietors of anything (from IP to ice cube makers) be easily and unambiguously identifiable; otherwise, it would be impossible to have informed consumers because nobody would know who makes what.

    Trademark law (and corporate name law which is virtually identical) simply says that you can't misrepresent company A as company B, especially if A and B are competitors. You're allowed to use trademarks in any other situation that you would be allowed to use a person's name. People get into silly lawsuits over trademarks, but then they get into lawsuits over libel and slander too.

    One of the _nice_ things about copyrights is that they keep the people who produce copyright works on physical media from hiring people who really know what they're doing to find ways to stop such media from being copied without permission. DIVX makes money without legal copyright protection too. I find DVD's "copying restrictions" (breakage by design) much too annoying to enjoy any movies in that format--I can't imagine how intolerable DIVX must be.
  • I'd rather buy only the tracks I like instead of being forced to purchase hundreds of megabytes of music data that I don't want. The problem is that 90% crappy CD's cost the same as 10% crappy CD's, not one of exceess copyright protection or lack thereof.
  • "editors weed out (much of) the crap that we wouldn't want to waste our time on, publishers provide a distribution channel."

    The Internet can provide this function at very low cost (certainly low enough that revenue streams such as advertising can pay for it).

    Star Wars costs $100 million today. Ten years from now it might be something that could be produced in someone's basement with a normal desktop computer. We are already seeing some fairly high-quality productions (certainly not major-studio-quality, but not bad either) being produced by groups of people with Pentium-based video editing software.

    We would still have Star Wars, it would just happen later. Or perhaps earlier, given that more people would be working on the necessary video editing and CGI animation software.
  • If copyright law is abolished, so are laws against reverse engineering. The FSF could then set itself up as a central repository and information clearing house for discoveries from backward engineers.

    Trade secrets were only a legal problem if such secrets were disclosed to you by their owners, and there was some framework in place wherein you would be obligated not to reveal that information (e.g. you signed an NDA or agreed to one by opening a package). Otherwise, any trade secrets you discover are fair game.
  • Patenting a compression algorithm means you cannot communicate with someone who only understands that algorithm, or who is broadcasting data encoded in that algorithm.
  • There is a use for short-term copyrights even on commodity software. It takes a week or two for warez sites to catch up, so the absolute minimum copyright period for software should probably be a week or two, possibly a month.

    Most video games could benefit from a copyright of five years, after which there is little loss in loss of protection. News and current information programs (TV/radio/WWW) become much less valuable a year after their initial release. Operating system software is actually less useful when it is encumbered by copyright at all, but there is an argument that maybe a 1-year or 3-year copyright is appropriate.

    20 years, though, is much too long. By that point everyone who can really benefit from having access to copyright software has probably bit the bullet and re-implemented it anyway. How much does Microsoft make from sales of PC-DOS these days?

    Perhaps we should shorten the length of copyrights for software by one year per year until we find a workable duration.

    Of course music, movies, and books have to be handled differently; software is generally used as a tool which requires maintenance and extension during its life, while music generally is recorded once and is simply reproduced exactly thereafter. Enterprises live or die on their software; their phone system's hold-music is generally much less critical.
  • There's a nasty hole here...

    "Hi, I'm Joe Blow. I wrote the little spinning globe thingy on Internet Explorer and several other critical library functions. I just quit Microsoft...and I'm not granting them a license to use my code any more. Thpppt."
  • Copyrights are IMHO a good thing. They give the developer of a peice of software the freedom to choose how it will be distributed. Without copyrights, the GPL isn't worth the electons that light up the letters on your screen, anyone can take your code and turn it into something else, without giving you credit. Also, if companies can't copyright their code, they will patent their algorithms instead. One step forward, ten steps back. Nobody would have an incentive to invest, because there would be no money to be made in arts literature, film,software, or anything else like that. Who wants to see Star Wars 2 & 3? Do you think George Lucas is going to make those movies (to the tune of $150 million each) out of the goodness of his heart, not expecting a penny in return? I doubt it too...

    I'm starting to sound like a M$ spinmeister, I better stop here.
  • "And If I'm elected president everyone will get a
    free BMW, a 2000 sq ft house, more vacation time, and no taxes!!!" the crowd goes wild....

    Lets see, first we'll need a constitutional amendment.... Then we'll need to convince George Lucas to spend $150mil (or whatever) to produce "Star Wars" so we all can watch it for free - oh, wait a minute, no, everyone will work for free -
    How about "To each according to their need, from each arrcording to their abilities" - Suddenly I have lots of needs and little ability.

    And forget about trying to establish a reputation, since, w/o trademark protection anyone can steal your identity for their own benefit.

  • by EnglishTim ( 9662 )
    I don't think that the central idea behind Intellectual Property is that you can just have an idea, and then make money from it.

    Rather, if you have an idea and spend your time and money on developing it - and someone else benefits from your hard work, then you deserve some recompense for it. That's why (In the UK, at least - I'm not entirely sure of the situation in the US) You can't patent an idea - rather you can only patent an *implementation* of an idea.
  • No, I don't think *you* get it...

    Firstly, reproducing films is a pretty expensive buisiness - 10,000 copies ain't cheap.

    Secondly, A copy made from a first-generation film is still going to be pretty high quality - probably better than you'd get after a reel has gone through a projector 50 times.... Now, someone who has a first-generation copy can sell copies much cheaper than Lucasfilms can because they don't have to recoup any of the production costs.

    Thirdly (And a bit of an aside, I admit) Digital Theatre Screens are almost upon us. Episode 1 is being used to debut the first one. Others are bound to follow. Episode II is going to be completely digital - they'll be using digital cameras throughout.
  • No, the arguments in the article are not as applicable to patents as they are to copyrights. In my view, the Internet has not changed the invention landscape enough to reach the conclusion that patents no longer encourage invention. Non-software patents, and even some software patents, require intensive capital investment that would not exist but for patent monopoly. Copyright is another story...
  • I don't think that the murder analogy is perfect. The whole rationale for preventing murder is that killing is "wrong." Even if murder is not completely prevented it is still "wrong" and therefore proscribable. Copyright, on the other hand, exists to provide incentives to produce and share future work by preventing others from copying that work. If copyright does not acheive this goal, it does not serve its purpose and should be modified. The Internet, and the open software movement, certainly cast doubt on the efficacy and necessity of copyright in achieving this goal.

    Now, if you regard your works as something that you have an inalienable right to, then you could make the argument that it is in fact "wrong" to copy your works without permission. I don't think, however, that this was the original justification for copyright. I do agree with you that the labor theory of property should govern. You put in the sweat; it's yours...

  • Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. -- Thomas Edison

    I understand the confusion surrounding the concept of inspiration as property. By doing away with copyrights, though, you make it impossible to profit from the perspiration involved in developing an idea so that it has some use.

    Some people do their work for the fame and recognition, some for the money, some because they are just offended by inelegant solutions. If you only allow one reward system, you'll lose the interest of the other two groups and we'll all be worse off.
  • Stewart Alsop specifically mentions music and film as mediums that might best go without the protection of intellectual property laws. He states one can still make money on music when people are free to copy it. He has "seen business plans for at least three companies that are planning to answer that question by building businesses around unprotected music."

    He fails to mention that it would be the organization with the best distribution capabilities making the money, and not the artist.

    What are your feelings on pimps and whorehouses?
  • Beat this man over the head with a copy of Atlas Shrugged. Now I know why I read Forbes and not Fortune.
  • If the ability to hoarde your "intellectual property" is your only incentive to create it, then you should probably question what it is really worth.

    Abolishing the concept of "intellectual property" would only kill the particular innovation that was inspired by greed. Real innovation, inspired by creativity and a need for something better, would flourish as it has for centuries with or without IP law.

    It is my firm belief that the best software, art, music, literature, etc. is usually produced by people who expect nothing in return.
  • Alsop is such a tool. If he ever let go of himself long enough to learn how to type with both hands, he would really be dangerous.

    What I want to know is who the hell was paying $500 a year to read this tripe in his P.C. Letter? That's a sweet gig if you can get it. I can see Stewart shedding a tear as his last sucker got a clue in 1993 and he had to stop.
  • Banning IP would only succeed in slowing innovation to the point where nobody would trade their ideas. Allowing them to be protected is the only way to assure commercialism in the age of technology. OSS is good. Sharing ideas is good. Working together is good. Telling someone that their idea is now property of the commonwealth of the world is ridiculous, socialist, and negligent when seen through the eyes of history. Give people ownership of their inventions, allow them to innovate and you have the key to success.
  • At some point, say 50 years in the future, this issue will seem so much clearer than it is today. Right now we struggle to make sense of it all.

    Alsop is correct in that trying to protect copyrights is futile, but so is the War on Drugs. And that hasn't stopped the U.S. govt. from trying to stop that.

    There is too much $$, too many Wall Street slicksters, too many folks with 401Ks tied up into the companies profiting from the status quo, for such a radical change to happen anytime soon--especially since politicians worship at the alter of those who can supply the $$ that pay for the advertising campaigns that get them elected. Don't count on them to do anything revolutionary.

    On the flip side, how would any meaningful large-scale software development project get off the ground if the end results could not be profitable? How would user interface studies, testing labs, or other software-related research ever be funded?

    Somewhere between the current situation of copyright/patent-happy, litigation-prone, monopolistic oppresion and the free-for-all of an Open-Source world, there exists a happy medium that will foster innovation without stifling the industry.

    We need a hero to help us find it.
  • What do you mean the creators make nothing? I understand Linus is doing just fine at Transmeta. And as far as we know, at this time, does Transmeta hold any IP?

    The point is that people who create something need to survive, but they don't need to make money from the thing they created. Perhaps what they created helps someone else to survive. For example, perhaps a struggling hospital can survive because they are using Linux and free software to run their equipment. So, more people have a chance to survive as a result of Linux. So if Linux doesn't help Linus to survive, maybe it helps other people to survive. Isn't that just as much a contribution to the greater good? Now somebody else may be doing something that helps Linus survive.
  • I thought his article was a litle thin, but then you presented all of what was left out... Law enforced GPLification of every product? No, I think the problem is, those who benefits from the current system are too powerfull to enable the rest of us to change it...
  • Ok, I'll admit I haven't read the article yet, but I can respond to general arguments about abolishing copyright.

    1) This would invalidate the GPL. Copyrights can work both ways, you know? Get rid of copyrights and people who write code can't control how it's used.

    2) Lower quality works. While for certain things like computer programs and books, a person may make because it's a labor of love. But some things, like multi-million dollar movies, aren't going to happen unless the people who make them get a copyright. Sure, the actors and directors and maybe the pyrotechnicians like their work, but how long is the cameraman going to work without serious compensation? You can't get that kind of compensation unless there's a copyright.

    3) Even though the goverment may do a bad job of protecting copyrights, it's probably better for us that they're the ones doing it. If there were no governmen-protected copyrights, it would be up to the producers to protect their own rights. How about all books being printed red-on-yellow so you can't make a b&w xerox? How about those stupid wheel thingies to use software again? (please, no!) Any attempt by the producer/distributor of intellectual property to protect their own interests results in a less pleasant experience for us, the user. The government may do a bad job of getting the little guys, but they can go after the big guys with great hoopla and create a stir.

    Ok, that's enough from me.
  • I don't think people have thought this one out. Ending trademarks (as Alsop suggests) would be awful.

    Anyone out there keep Kosher? The Kosher-certifying organizations place their seals of approval on products, and those seals are protected by trademark law, a form of IP. No more trademark law means that anyone can slap those labels on. It already happens (wwww.kashrut.com keeps track of mislabeled products), even with legal protection backing up those symbols. They would be completely meaningless without trademark law.

    Trademarks in general have been around to ensure that the person who made the product is who they say they are. I like knowing that there is some legal punishment for a company masquerading as someone else. Getting rid of trademarks will be the end of cheap "Sorny" stereos and the beginning of cheap "Sony" stereos. How can you tell the difference between a real Sony and a fake if the boxes look the same and the outside cases are the same?

    Once again, Allsop has half-thought through one of his columns.


  • I thought about the mp3 case soon after I posted. Copyright is about more than making money!

    I think the author should have said "everything should be GPL" and might have used the music industry as an example. But think for a minute: once portable mp3 players become commonplace where will be the incentive for buying an abundance of CD's?

    Case in point: the Matrix soundtrack. It would be nice to have a few songs, but maybe you allready have some of them or don't like one or two. Wouldn't you rather mp3 the tracks you don't have and sell back the CD or perhaps never purchase it? There are a lot of CD's that I would like to have a single track and besides the fact that I can play that one track in my walkman there is no redeeming value to owning that CD.

    Without copyright I could legally accumulate hundreds of mp3's and screw all those one hit wonders (who probably deserve some compensation for their limited talent) whose CD's I'd never buy.
  • You didn't seem to get my point.

    Not that I expect to become fabulously rich, but the *PROSPECT* of being so is intreguing and very motivational.

    Without even a gimmer of hope of achieving such a fantasy or some fraction thereof I doubt that there would be as many people in the business as there are today.
  • The real issue here is the current way that the USPO allows you to patent an idea, witness Colliers patent on multimedia. Thats like patenting the car or the suspension bridge or the *IDEA* of a mousetrap. If rigorously enforced, it stifles creativity. But instead if they allow only the patent on their implementation of their idea, then it leaves the potential for much better mousetraps, though no one could copy your mousetrap with the rotating steel knives and the lemon fresh scent. Innovation then would be supported and people would be protected from outright stealing of your implementation.
  • I can see the some merits in the argument that people should benefit from their labor in creating software
    Agreed. But why should some programmers make $1E7 while others barely scrape by at $5E4, simply because EVERYBODY wants a copy of quake, but only two people want a copy of the real-time cotyledon metabolism simulator? I don't have an answer; I don't think the communist answer is realistic, but I think the purely capitalist answer is (in this case) grossly unfair.

  • But some things, like multi-million dollar movies, aren't going to happen unless the people who make them get a copyright

    The threat of serious heavy legal action protects the film industry from mass copying today. However, it would be possible for the studios to use physical protection in place of legal protection. If Congress did away with copyrights tomorrow, the film industry would still make obscene amounts of money. Ticket prices would go up somewhat to pay for the armored cars and armed guards that would accompany every single reel of film. It would become publib knowledge that the guards had to physically protect every reel, so that stealing a reel of film would mean physically assaulting a guard, which means he would be defending himsel when he shot the thief. Insiders who tried to steal the film would quickly find that it's hard to swim when you're wearing concrete shoes.

    Multi-billion dollar industries don't shrivel up and blow away simply because government stops subsidizing them. The only place I can see where they'd lose money would be in video. While that could be a substatntial loss, keep in mind that there is lots of money spent on film-making that is essentially wasted - did Lucas really need to spend millions Queen What's-her-face's dresses?
  • Let me ask the same question in a different way that would perhaps clarify the intent of the question.

    If Lucas had to cut costs in order to make the film profitable, could he have found places to do so while still maintaining his artisitic integrity, without damaging the film's entertainment value, and while telling the same story? For example, could he have cut the costume budget?
  • Software patents should be for 2 years, max. Give somebody the patent, let them profit exclusively from their idea for a couple of years, and then let anybody who wants to use it do so.

    I would also submit that patents for hardware are all patents for ideas. Metal and plastic aren't what's protected by patents; it's the shape of the metal or plastic. Hardware patents protect the expression of ideas in physical substances. It's all about intellectual property.
  • If a programmer (or author) quits, then I would suggest that he retain his copyright and continue to license it to the corporation. In essence, all employess would become "free agents" at least in terms of IP. This may not be bad in principle. I think where it gets sticky in practice is if a certain piece of IP is developed by more than one individual - it could get quite messy for a company to keep track of how much of what IP belongs to who if someone leaves.
  • If a programmer (or author) quits, then I would suggest that he retain his copyright and continue to license it to the corporation. In essence, all employess would become "free agents" at least in terms of IP. This may not be bad in principle. I think where it gets sticky in practice is if a certain piece of IP is developed by more than one individual - it could get quite messy for a company to keep track of how much of what IP belongs to who.
  • As many have already mentioned, abolishing copyrights altogether would create chaos, including invalidating the GPL. The system needs to be modified so that the it provides the protection needed by individuals and small companies while limiting abuses by the largest corporations. One way might be to reduce the amount of time protection lasts for large companies. Another might be to force big companies who have made a large profit form a copyrighted work to license it under progressively more liberal terms.
  • Nonsense. The GIF image compression patent means people use some other image compression algorithm. Big deal. OTOH, the availability of patents for drugs makes what we call modern medicine possible. Which would you rather do without?
  • I'm not too sure copyrights make sense for software. As pointed out in the article, copying software is zero-cost. Software "piracy" hardly amounts to stealing -- the original owner (or licencee) still has a fully functional product.

    On the other hand, I can see the some merits in the argument that people should benefit from their labor in creating software. After all, it is the public interest to provide people with the incentive to create the next Netscape, Quake, even Office.

    The current U.S patent laws do just that. An inventor (and isn't a software program more like an invention than a book?) is given a time limited monopoly on producing his invention. But after a while (17 years?), the invention passes into the public domain.

    I think this is how the software IP copyright should work. Allow the author to have exclusive rights to the product for a period of time, at which point it passes into the public domain.
  • What does "need" mean in your last sentence? He was an artist, trying to capture his vision of what the queen ought to have looked like. It was his money to spend (he wrote a check for the whole damn movie). What other justification is necessary?
  • Could he? Probably. Did he? No. And I'm glad he didn't. George Lucas is not (according to the things I read about him) a particularly materialistic person. He seems to have a singular knack for making the best possible use of resources for maximum artistic impact (see Star Wars as a marvelous example). I'm SURE that whatever money he spent on costumes was precisely what needed to be spent to achieve the desired aim. It would be uncharacteristic (of course, never having met the man, this is a hard conclusion to defend) for him to just piss away money. Of course, the other side of it is that the first two movies had to be made on a shoestring, and now he's independently wealthy enough to spend however damn much he wants to on his movie to make it PERFECT. Wow, I'd love to be in that position some day!

    It's a hard question to answer. Could Queen Padme have been dressed in simpler attire? Sure, I guess. It's possible that it wouldn't even have a noticeable negative effect on the plot/story. But from what I've seen in the trailer, the Queen's attire is baroque, even ostentatious. I'm SURE there's a thematic element that's being served by that costuming decision. Ask me about it again in a month after I've seen the movie a few dozen times. : )
  • Copyright does not need to be abolished, since in practice it already has. When someone can set up a business on the Internet, based in some foreign country without copyright protections, and sell content that is copied from others, then what good is copyright?

    The big question is that now that we've lost copyright protection in many ways, how can business continue to work? Although this is a brazen plug, I've written an article on just this topic, and it's quite thorough in its investigation.

    Have a look at http://www.geocities .com/SiliconValley/Way/1387/copyright.html [geocities.com]

    It looks at MP3s, Open Source, Shareware, Project Gutenberg, and what the new rules of the game might be.
  • Ultimately, computers, software, electronics and the whole shebang are about making money. None of them were invented to help or make life easier for Joe Punchclock. That they did this is an interesting and wonderful side effect. Copyrights, trademarks, and patents are the tools of huge corporations and mean more to them than what is the best for everyone. Even if you could come up with a scheme (like limiting the duration of a copyright for software) that made the world a better place, why should a company like M$ or Dell or Phillips or anyone get behind it when they already make a boatload of money off the old way of doing things? I say talk all you want about copyrights and their abuse, but it will never do any good so long as the dollar rules world. Capitalism encourages innovation, no doubt, but it isn't the optimal environment for it because money will always be valued more than innovation itself. So, fortuneboy has a good point. But in America money talks. "Congress shall pass no law abridging the right of corporations to amass obscene amounts of money" - isn't that the subtext of the whole constitution? I mean our freakin revolution was about paying taxes!

    - as a side note, how, exactly, is the GPL supposed to protect Linux? I mean sure, if you choose to say you borrowed Linux code, then you have to abide by the terms of the GPL. But if you just steal the code, and release it under a license that isn't open source and strictly forbids reverse engineering or decompiling who would know? I'm sure it's already been done. The GPL is basically an honor system. Copyrights only really protect software with closed source.
  • I suppose you could still release a license agreement, but the only thing that makes it enforceable is the copyright. Without it, you could just legally copy it, and say that you didn't agree with the license. I mean, you only have to agree with the license to use the software if the company has a copyright on it.
  • MYOPIC. SYCOPHANT. You should spell-check before you cast aspersions. Also, rational arguments never contain "ignorant bastard" in the title. This is all just in case you decide to post a rational argument in the future. By the way, very appropriate domain.
  • Abolishing copyrights would have a *very*
    negative affect on the GPL cause as a whole.
    If a companies IP rights arent guarded by law,
    why would they release their proprietary code
    under any license which allows possible competitors
    to "steal" their ideas and start making money off
    them ? Its all about protecting income. My
    opinion is that this would drive companies to go
    to even greater lengths to protect their investment
    in their code, not open-source it.
  • Any comment beginning with "That is retarded" can be ignored.

    Thanks for helping strengthen that general rule.

    The reference to smoking crack though -- that really helps your argument. Touche!

    The only people who would likely lose out if copyright didn't exist are those who depend heavily on copyright laws because they make an inferior product.

    I've often paid big bucks(TM) for a video game that turned out to be useless crap. Since then I've learned that it makes sense to try out a game first. That way I end up trying out a lot of games, becoming bored within a day or so, and giving up. On rare occasions I find a game that's actually worth those big bucks and I'll go out and buy it for: tech support, manuals, the box, etc.

    Now on occasion the means I use to try out a product before I buy it are technically illegal because of copyright laws. Never mind that after a couple of hours of playing the game I erase it in disgust. But guess what, when I do that the software publishing companies pretend that every person who does that would actually have spent $50 or whatever the ridiculous price is to buy the game, but that money was lost due to piracy.


    Reasoning like this is why software tends to cost as much as it does. Companies have to pay for ads, lawyers and distribution. The end result is that people still steal the software but aren't quite as open about it.

    Although it's really a weak reason, you also can't just dismiss that copying can't be stopped. Esp. with the Internet, I can get a crack to nearly any game that's been copy protected within minutes of looking, and within weeks of release. CD Burners are cheap and it's easy to copy software CDs. When a law is simply uninforceable, why is it still on the books?

    Anyhow, I think everything should be open. I love open source, I hate intellectual property laws, and have yet to hear a decent argument against my views. Though again, that "crack smoking" comment.... touche

  • Movies are a great example of how copyrights aren't needed.

    People will still go to theatres to see movies that are worth seeing. If you have the choice to see "The Phantom Menace" in the theatre for $8 or for free on a pan-and-scan vcr version, which are you gonna do?

    Now unless you think people are going to start competing with the actual distribution of films... I can't see how getting rid of copyright is going to change movies at all.

  • After the French Revolution, copyrights were eliminated. The result was that creators hoarded information while releasing things that were only useful short term.

    I don't think you can really make a case about anything that occurs right after a revolution. It's always a time of turmoil, and takes a while for the system to adjust.

    The GPL also says that you can't close off the source. Elimination of the copyright would remove the GPL's teeth. In other words, the programmers who invested in GPL code in the hopes of keeping it open would have worked for naught. Companies would be able to take the GPL code and lock it up tight.

    As other people have mentioned the FSF considers the GPL to be an interim solution until everything is free. Besides, companies would never be able to take GPLed code and lock it up tight. The worst they'd be able to do is make something based on the GPLed code and not give back the additions/fixes/modifications. But since following that liscense is somewhat on the honour system already, I don't think it would disappear. I think many people who contribute already do so because they think the project is worthwhile, not because they know the GPL will protect them.

    Anyhow, I agree that the abolition of copyright would fundamentally shift the economies of the world's countries... but is that necessarily a bad thing? There would still be a need for people to code. Unless you want to imagine an apocalypse then computers will still exist. People will still make hardware, and so they'll need drivers and software. People will still need to produce manuals so tech writers will still have jobs. So what if people copy the manuals? It's pretty useless without the hardware. What about software that doesn't relate to hardware. Well people will still need to communicate, so some form of email system will exist. Now it could be that each company would use their own proprietary thing... but I think it's more likely that you'd see a community effort to produce a very functional email client, because people will need it. I can see employers paying these people to spend the time too... sure, they'll have to deal with the fact that anything their employees produce will be immediately available to their competition... but recent events have shown that companies are willing to go open-source.

    Now you would probably see a reduction in the number of certain things, like commercial games. You might start seeing games with hardware protection, or open-source games, or games with really detailed manuals, or more advanced forms of copy protection. But I personally would be willing to forgo games to live in a world where I didn't have to deal with the stupidities of copyright.

  • Simple:

    If I own a lot and want to build a house there, you can't build a house there too. There is only one land and use/ownership of it is mutually exclusive.

    If I own a program I can copy it and give it to you and keep using it. There is virtually no incremental cost to copying and no reason two people can't use it at the same time.

  • You're making outlandish assumptions there. Murder isn't a good example because it's hard to imagine it being something you can't prevent.

    Think about prostitution or marijuana use. Governments spend millions if not billions trying to fight these "crimes" and have next to no effect. It makes no sense to spend money that way.

    Now whether or not prostitution or marijuana use are bad things or not is not the issue. If a rule can't be enforced, get rid of it or change it.

    If the community decides the unenforceable activity is really horrible, make a new law that can actually be enforced.

  • You claim that cracking has momentarily outstripped copy protection? Unless that "momentarily" dates back to the earliest days of the C64 I can't agree. There has never been a time in the history of modern software when pirates haven't found ways of getting around copy protection. It would only be a matter of time before hardware dongles were defeated too, if they became commonplace. So, we should just give up on trying to profit from our work just because there are people who would rather steal than pay? Just because it's easy doesn't make it right. Copyright, like many other things simply keeps honest people honest. If there were no copyright it would be "choose to copy not to buy". If I disliked it, I wouldn't buy the official version. How very rational. Now, if you can guarantee that every person who does like and use my stuff will pay for it, I'll gladly give up the hassle and considerable cost of government-sponsored copyright protection.
  • You're confused. This is a problem of software patents, not copyrights. They are very different creatures. Problems with GIF, MP3, and so on are all due to patents and not copyrights.

    Remember: copyrights are what allow Open Source to work.

  • Quite a number of people here suggested that copyrights are good because it is the base of "GPL" or "Open Source". I don't think that is a correct reasoning. If there were not "copyright", we do not need "GPL".

    Just imagine what is the obligation and power of both the producer and consumer of software. With GPL, both have no obligation. If somebody asked you for a copy, you can refuse: for whatever reason. Both have most of the power, because both can, if they want, copy, distribute and modify the software. The only thing that can't be done is to give a copy to others BUT says "you cannot copy, distribute or modify" the software. There is one exception: the producer can produce a modified version and change the license term. If you think GPL is good, you won't like this. But it is the fact.

    What if there's no copyright law? If that were the case, the legal system do not regard software as something which can be "owned" or "controlled" by individual. Only "physical" representation of the software (like disk, CD, tape, etc) can. Again, both the producer and the consumer have no obligation. And the consumer, not abided by any sort of enforcable law, can also make copy, distribute, and modify the software. The only difference is that the producer can no longer change the license: it is always something like GPL.

    In my opinion, GPL is something which use the copyright system to negate the power of copyright system. There is not much point to say "GPL is good, so copyright is good". If you think everything should be GPL, there shouldn't be copyright law in the first place.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Copyright was originally invented in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century to protect the widows, orphans and dependents of authors. Small-scale scribblers, in other words, whose work was ripped off posthumously and left their dependents to starve.

    As an institution it was never originally conceived of as giving protection to huge corporations. Nevertheless, the principle of equality before the law gave such protection to corporations -- and since the sixties they've been using it. (Earlier if you count newspapers and magazines, but they have their content written on a work-for-hire basis, which is a bit different.)

    The real issue is that our original concept of copyright has been grossly misapplied, in a context it was never designed for. I think a blanket abolition would harm the small guys quite badly; but a case can be made on ethical grounds for removing copyright protection and copyright ownership from corporations.

    One way this might work is that small guys still have copyright. Big companies don't, but can publish copyrighted works under license. The big guys license the copyrighted work and then publish it, and can if necessary legally defend their authors' copyright against plagiarism and piracy. For large projects, corporations might license their programmer's copyright in return for a salary. Of course, if a programmer then quits or is fired, this agreement lapses -- I am still scratching my head over how to plug this gap ... but as a big picture it seems to make more sense to me than a total abolition of copyright or a totally copyright-oriented world.

  • Yes, but no musician would post MP3s if it weren't for copyright laws. Without them, a majorr could take the cool song, rerecord with a good looking singer and never give a dime to the song writer. Song writers are not necessarily performers. How do they make money without copyrights?
  • Wanting to be compensated for your work is not greed. While the definition of the "best art" for instance is completely subjective, Leonardo DaVinci, who many would say produced some of the "best art" did not work for free. He often did work on commision and other times was funded by a patron.

    Labourers aren't expected to work for free, in fact many skilled labourers are very well compensated. For a labourer a tangible amount of effort was expended to produce a tangible piece of work and in return an amount of tangible money was exchanged. Creativity is a labour as well though albeit not as tangible. The time and effort spent however is very tangible and without some form of compensation that creative process won't continue. I've known a number of excellent musicians and artists for instance who had to give up their aspirations for gainful employment. Almost none of them were looking to get filthy rich but couldn't even manage to make out a meager existance.

    IP law is a great deal older than you imagine. There have been patent or intellectual property disputes for hundreds of years, probably longer. It is my firm belief that most of the people who loudly scream for the abolishment of copyright and patents are the ones who would never have anything that needs protection anyway. Note, I said most, not all.
  • It's an interesting article and is fairly well thought out. I personally think that the trademark, copyright and patent law system needs a big shakeup. Abolishing it entirely would be detrimental though.

    First consider a trademark. This is legal acknowledgement that your company has the exclusive rights to words and symbols to represent your product and/or company. Suppose that trademark law didn't exist. This would mean no laws would be violated if some company with a competing product copied the marketing appearance of some other product. So for instance, I could develop a soda drink which happens to be a cola and market it in a container similar or identical to that of Coca-Cola. Regardless of how you personally feel about Coca-Cola the consumer itself can't be guaranteed of getting what they thought they were purchasing. Maybe they got Coca-Cola, maybe they got some other cola flavoured caffeinated and carbonated sugar water. Some form of trademarking is required, at the very least to protect the consumer. In this case Coca-Cola should be trademarkable, but the generic type of product, Cola, shouldn't be.

    The abolishment of copyright law would result in the silencing of a lot of sources of information or art and so on. Copyright protection enables information of these types to be marketed, which enables the holder of the copyright to put a value on the information and eventually the author of the information gets payed. The middleman between the author and money will rapidly disappear from the equation as more and more people become able to self publish and promote, but the copyright protection is still required. People like RMS provide a great deal of free information, but not all of it, or at least not all of it is instantly free. Some of it is held back long enough for them to earn a speakers fee at whatever event they were invited to speak at. If anybody could get hold of his notes prior to the event and freely publish them they could be seriously devalued. The end result is if this is the only thing he has as a source of income that source of income would be jeapordized. Time to look for new work.

    Patent law protects innovation, or more accurately it protects companies who innovate. Real innovation is an expensive process, experts need to be hired at high salaries. During the course of the innovative process the innovators themselves are a drain on the financial resources of the company. This financial burden is only recompensed if the innovation works and proves marketable. For every profitable innovation there are many unprofitable ones. In order to recoup the spent capital (and make a tidy profit, since thats the purpose of companies) the right to exclusive ownership of the patented material is provided for some lenght of time. The costs involved in this type of innovation are why you don't see much of it in the OpenSource community. For instance streaming audio and video, image compression, architectural enhancements of computer systems for the most part are the results of commercial ventures. The people with the skills to innovate in these fields want to be paid.

    The above laws need a lot of work, they were established when commerce moved a lot slower than it does presently and there are a few things that couldn't be perceived of at the time of their introduction. If they were totally abolished the present technological pace would be significantly dampened however.
  • by ewhac ( 5844 )

    Stewart is closer to the truth than he realizes.

    Once again, I'll trot out my lovable chestnut :-), Digital Sculptures [best.com], wherein I describe the economic realities of digital media, and the future it portends.

    Alsop does overlook one thing, however. IP law shouldn't be abolished completely. Some laws would need to remain to prevent theft of reputation.


  • Getting rid of copyrights is like giving everyone a license to steal. In my line(s) of work, I do nothing but provide intellectual property. With my professional job, I do alot of psychometric research and computer programming to go along with it. Most of the stuff we do has never been done before of it has been done and that that have been implemented bave been rather poorly. For instance, I am working on a project that rates essays for content much like ETS (Educational Testing Services) now implements on the GRE. I'll be damned if someone is going to take what we have designed and implement it for free within their own multimillion dollar institution.

    Think about this, all those who've signed NDAs on the source you've had them peruse would now be free to take what you've developed and rebrand it as their own bcause the contract would no longer be valid. Then they sell it to M$ because even though their stuff sucks and they ruin everything they touch, Gates is one of the best damn salesmen in the world (if not the best)...Not one of you can argue this point.

    In my side business, I design websites and povide content. I rely on my (c) to let people know that even if they want to take my shit and repost it, it will still bear my name and a link back to my site...this is the only thing I charge for reproducing my creations, but the (c) ensures that I will not be ripped off from even that.

    Finally as my hobby (its starting to look like a business since the opening of our newest website) is that I'm musician and mostly a synthesist. I don't mind people passing around mp3 of my music, I would however mind them being put on another website or burned by someone other than end user. Unfortunately, MP3 doesn't store copyright information or let others know who created this stuff. I've even taken the shit off my site that I might want to shop around at some point and left the more arty stuff up there (ie., couldn't sell it if I wanted to). Past the mp3, I also design sound sets for the Kurzweil series of samplers. The cost of recording these didn't come cheap and if they weren't for my own personal usage, I would be charging others for their usage.

    The whole point is that few people actually provide content and the rest of you damn vampires suck it up and expect us to work for free. If it wasn't for intellectual property protections, I wouldnt have a job. I could easily go back to repairing computers ad make far more than I do right now...as I find a great distain for this kinda stuff the last year I actually let people know I did it I was charging $75 and hour to swap a damn hard drive in the privacy of their own home (and what I see gets forgotten later, unlike bestbuy). I hate that shit, and unfortunately for most of the lusers reading this board, this is all you are cut out to do. If you really beleive in giving away your time for free, quit work and do so. If you don't, then your a fucking hypocrite.

    Sorry to be so inflamatory, but some of us actually provide a service to the world that dosn't include manual labor or flipping burgers (like your ISP job isn't anything but). I may be an intellectual snob, but this is not less of an inflamatory notion that the Nazi's stealing from and killing the Jews just because they had the wealth of the time. When one doesn't have the intellectual capacity to create something on their own, those who can shouldn't be punished because of it.


    (yeah yeah, had to throw in some nazi imagery...it shows just how tired his arguement is. Whos law was it that said if ya brought up nazi's the arguements already been decided :)

  • I find it really hard to believe that this guy is a VC. The fact that he'd use Red Hat and companies that don't even have presence yet to support his argument that a non-IP world can work, demonstrates his ignorance. Look at what Red Hat has contributed: a few tk interfaces, gnome, installation menus, etc. While I like Red Hat and I believe that they make an important contribution to Linux, one must remember that their actual man hours(dollars) invested into software development is pretty damn small. They're paying about 3 or 4 developers for gnome, rather meager salaries at that. Furthermore, Red Hat is just a startup company, there is no proof that this business model is even viable. They're still a private company, no one except the few equity holders have seen their financial statements. This argument would be equivelent to trumpeting Yahoo's young execs as proof that young inexperienced kids can run a mature business, only worse.

    Intellectual Property is a neccessity to maintain today's rate of innovation, It shouldn't even require argument. While a few ignorant fools may trumpet Red Hat as proof that a company can survive without 'owning' any IP, they do not even address weather or not it is capable of supplanting classic capitalism. There are so many flaws in their 'argument', that it is laughable. However, I'll save my breath -- because I know that 98% of the readers on /. are essentially poorly read pyschophants, and any rational argument I put forth will be greeted with mioptic FSF dogma.

  • I never claimed my statement to be a rational argument. Secondly, I made two fairly obvious typos, that is not the end of the world. I'm sick of incomplete and incoherant arguments that claim to prove that IP is unneccessary and detrimental to society on the aggregate. My typos do not directly degrade my point. The author, and those who espouse similar notions, was writing an essay, whereas I was just writing a quick response. These require different levels of proof reading and structure. If you care to defend this author, defend the content. The act of bringing a few typos in my tirade to light does absolutely nothing to repair such a flawed piece of work.
  • No thank you.

    I plan to graduate fairly soon and start a small software engineering company. I will neither have the time, nor the resources to compete with the millions of "L337 WaReZ d00dz" who may try to distribute my work, be it good enough to sell.

    If it's not good enough to sell, or I don't feel like supporting it is worth my time I'll probably GPL or NCL it.

    Sure I could use some elaborate copy protection scheme, but I personally find those extremely anoying.

    Without copyright the small businessman/entrepreneur of the software industry is screwed (or humbled if you're that altruistic). He has no chance to be the next Bill Gates, not that being a Business Borg is a good thing. Young greedy bright kids just have to have a goal in mind, right?!

    Without this greed motivating him the only ones doing anything will be those who either have the intellectual curiosity to code or actually give a damn about your software woes. Due to the scarcity of those characters I'd rather risk dealing with someone like Bill Gates.

    Remember that "I would code if paid..." survey? Imagine that number being 1/8 or less.
  • Thoughts and ideas are certainly cheaper than a dime a dozen. Expressions of same are not.

    Stepping aside from software, for a moment, consider fiction. There are only a handful of basic plots, and new fiction consists of reworking and combining those into a new expression. It takes work to write good fiction. Now, consider if there were no copyrights. Most authors would actually be little affected, because most authors don't make much money selling their fiction. However, the best authors make quite a bit of money -- lack of copyright would decrease their incentive to entertain us with new works (but not entirely eliminate it because authors tend to have a compulsion to write, just as hackers tend to have a compulsion to program). But there remains the editorial/publishing function. This is very definitely a value-added function: editors weed out (much of) the crap that we wouldn't want to waste our time on, publishers provide a distribution channel. The latter could be replaced, given the internet, when we have a technology that makes electronic books a little more comfortable to read (better screen resolution, and convenient for reading in, say, the bathroom). But the editorial function remains. Is it going to be worth anyone's time to (a) sift through the 'slush pile', (b) suggest revisions and corrections, etc if there's no fiscal return? Bear in mind that with no copyright, anyone is free to reproduce such selected and edited works with no return to the editor. Some editors may have the same sort of compulsion that many authors have (I can think of a few), and whose opinions on a work are worth paying attention to, but on the whole we'd find ourselves immersed in the same sort of signal-to-noise ratio in fiction that we now see on, say, Usenet (or perhaps on Slashdot, if there are enough volunteer editors/moderators).

    Substitute 'fiction' above for any other category that can reasonably be generated by an individual - music for example.

    Now consider if we'd ever see another episode of 'Star Wars' if that couldn't be copyrighted. Nobody is going to spend $100 million to create something that anybody can copy and distribute freely. Oh sure, there'll still be films - amateur efforts like 'Macbeth Star Wars' or 'Hardware Wars' or whatever. But really, is that what we want our choices limited to?

    Copyright law certainly has its problems - the current duration of 50 years (or is it 75 now?) beyond the author's lifetime is a bit ridiculous - but lets think through all the implications before we junk it altogether.
  • Without the at least nominal (if imperfect) protection of copyright, anyone who wanted to make money of their own work and intellectual property would release it only through such restrictive schemes as DIVX (coupled with some sort of copy protection), where each use can be monitored and approved of/billed.

    How'd you like it if all studios only released movies on DIVX? How about (for those of you that need to use non-free software, including games) if your software was released only on a DIVX-like system?

    Those with a vested interest in IP will find a way to reduce copying, copyright law or no.
  • Anyone here think Lucasfilms would release any more Star Wars movies in this country if they weren't protected by copyright? The day after it opened (if not sooner) the whole thing would be available for download on a web site somewhere, and the videos would be in the stores a few days after that.

    Nobody is going to spend $100 million to make a film if there's no copyright protection. If you're happy reducing the film industry to the level of amateur efforts like 'Star Wars Macbeth' or 'Hardware Wars', then by all means eliminate copyright. Ditto for fiction, music, etc.

    Certainly copyright law has its problems, but lets think this through.
  • A few hardcore fanatics might pay the $8. Everyone else will watch the freebie version, or goes to a cut-rate theatre showing an unlicensed copy.

    Nobody will pay (much) to rent it from Blockbuster or pay more than the cost of a blank tape to own a copy. Blockbuster buys one copy (or downloads it from somewhere) of each movie and goes into the copying business. Fast-food outlets do their own movie tie-ins without paying the studios. Eighty-six different versions of "The Phantom Menace" start showing up as wannabe directors start doing their own edits, all of them bad, all of them downloadable off the net (if you want to sit through dl'ing a couple hundred meg each). The usenet crumbles. (If you thought alt.binaries.pictures.erotica.* was high volume, just wait...)

  • If you do away with copyrights, you do away with the GPL. Everything would be public domain. Free software as we know would cease to exist. Nothing would prevent Microsoft from taking Linux code, incorporating it into Windows, and then still keep the source code secret. Hell, they could release a MS/Linux and keep the source code secret. Without copyrights, companies would be forced to rely on secrecy even more than they do now.

    Some classes of intellectual property are more suitable for the GPL than others. Commodity style software is one example (operating systems and development libraries) that works well with GPL and BSD. Other styles aren't, such as vertical applications and games that you only play once. By eliminating copyright, you force all software to be treated the same.
  • Although eliminating (or reducing the duration of) software patents makes total sense, the copyright laws seem to work quite well. Copyright protections provide an effective barrier to prevent the wholesale copying of works without providing credit, but provide a level of protection that allows Open Source to work. Without copyright protection, we'd see far more use of trade secrets and protected binary-only distributions.

    As an example, the GPL only works because of copyright laws. If there were no copyright laws, Microsoft would be free to take GPLed code, change it, and incorporate it into binary-only distributions that only ran under Windows.

    Software vendors would also resort increasingly to technical means of preventing copying (dongles, license servers, etc). Artists and writers would also be discouraged from making their works available electronically in an easy-to-copy format. Copyright provides a simple and not overly-constrained legal framework to enforce something that social convention alone is not strong enough to enforce.

  • To the extent Alsop suggests that the government withdraw copyright protection it has already extended, there's a constitutional problem: Under the Fifth Amendment, a copyright is property which cannot be taken away from the copyright holder without compensation. The government could stop issuing copyrights, but the existing copyrights would be valid until they expire.

    One could imagine that the government could punch a rather serious hole in the copyright laws by substantially expanding the parameters of the "fair use" doctrine. Whether that's constitutional (insofar as the expansion would apply to existing copyrights) is hard to say, as the government's never really done anything like that so far as I know.

    Here's a thought: Suppose Congress passed a law making an exception from the infringement laws for the creation of exact copies of copyrighted work (e.g., you can dupe a film and sell copies, but you can't sell colorized copies, or copies with missing scenes, etc.). Such a regime(*) would avoid some of the problems discussed above; in particular, you couldn't reattribute a work to yourself, and it seems -- correct me if I'm wrong -- that the GPL, LGPL and similar schemes would survive. Again, this proposal probably raises constitutional issues. It might, however, be attractive to some copyright holders, particularly those who make their money from advertising embedded into copyrighted work (e.g., television networks). I'd be interested in hearing if anyone is aware of any serious discussions of such proposals.

    [* If you don't know, legal types informally call complex statutory structures "regimes"; the term has nothing to do with the third world sense of the word.]

  • He is not proposing that you don't "own" the product. He is proposing that others can build on top of your original work. You would still get credit for your original code...In fact, a lot more than if someone stole your code today, since whoever stole your code now would be hiding the fact. Copy protection is, historically, a new concept. For centuries music composers widely borrowed from each other's work. Bach, Mozart, Beethoveen all borrowed and were borrowed from and credit was given were credit was due. Similarly, in intellectual circles philosphers, scientist, etc...all freely interchanged ideas. This cooperation stimulated progress.
  • It seems that a lot of the arguments against copyright focus on how large companies use copyright to help themselves get larger. I see very few discussions of small independent developers who use copyright to protect themselves from larger companies who would steal their work.

    Consider the music industry, since the "MP3 Issue" has focused so much attention there. If an independent musician writes and records a great song with her/his own money, copyright is the only thing that keeps a large record company from re-recording or distributing that song without paying a dime to the original artist. Without copyright, the original artist has NO recourse.

    The GPL itself is a form of copyright. Remember that the GPL allows free modification, redistribution and use of GPL'd code, provided that the modifications are also placed under GPL. Without copyright, the GPL becomes meaningless -- GNU/Linux could be modified and redistributed in binary-only form.

    It's easy to focus on companies using copyright to prosecute some kid who copies games, but we should remember that copyright prevents companies from copying and re-selling the game the kid wrote herself. It can work FOR the little guy, too.
  • Copyright is simply a legal representation of common sense. What you create, is yours to do with as you please. Just because you thought it up instead of building it doesn't make it any less yours.

    Agreed. It seems that the chief argument here is that copyright is unenforcable in some circumstances, therefore it should be removed in those circumstances. There I disagree. The fact that something is unenforceable, in and of itself, doesn't make a law a bad law. However, the caveat is that those who wish to make a living off of copyrights must know that lawbreaking may occur, and that the Warez D00dz are hard to stop even with lawyers. If you still think that you can make a living on your copyrights, go for it. One of the nice things about OSS is that it sidesteps most of the copyright issue entirely (and likely makes us look like weenies to the d00dz). The fact that it works for us doesn't mean that we have the right to force it on anybody else.

  • You should realize as soon as possible that You Have No Chance To Be The Next Bill Gates.

    Dont get into the mass consumer software buisness. It will be gone soon enough. As it is today, if you become successful, you'll be bought out/killed off by Microsoft, or you'll be outevolved by free software.

    If you do want to get into mass marketing, you should probably aim at games. They will be a profitable, altho difficult, market for the forseeable future. That market wont be targetted by free software either for a long time, if ever, and it's not a one-product-only market.

    Otherwise, leverage off free software and create vertical market corporate systems. Good profits and not an endangered market either. Incidentally, copyrights dont matter much there anyway, since they have a tendency to be one-off to a few solutions.

    Or just go into consulting and you'll have a safer life.

  • The difference between a copyright and a deed is simple; physical property cannot be utilized by many without decreasing the use the 'owner' had of it. With intellectual property you do not cease to have full use of your property just because someone else also has it.

    Go look at www.ipnot.org if you wish to have a more detailed discourse on both the history of and the substance of intellectual property.
  • by Skyshadow ( 508 ) on Monday April 12, 1999 @09:37AM (#1939056) Homepage
    You know, this is the first place where I've seen a serious discussion of copyright abolishion that seemed really well-reasoned.

    He's right, though: trying to prevent copying in an era where copying is sooo easy for everyone to do is pretty futile. I mean, I don't need a printing press to distribute my opinions anymore (I only need slashdot... heh heh).


  • by Stu Charlton ( 1311 ) on Monday April 12, 1999 @12:33PM (#1939057) Homepage
    Interesting article. It's almost bang on with the end goal of the FSF: software (and IP) should have no owners.

    We know that abolishing copyright is the proper choice for freedom.. what we don't know yet is if its the proper choice for economics. There never are easy choices in that regard. A physical property-driven society has led us to great advances in the standard of living among the industrial nations - should that right be extended to intellectual property, for the economic benefit of all?

    In past, it was justifiable.. is it now?
    Will "piracy" go UP when copyright is abolished, or will it stay the same & people continue to buy stuff because "it's the right thing"?
    Will we figure a way to charge for copies when necessary?
    What restrictions are reasonable on modification (of music, for instance)?

    There are plenty of problems to be resolved, and I'm still very skeptical about how it would work for stuff like books & music, but... only with argument & debate will we find out if it'll work.

    I'm sitting on the fence, with my foot somewhat on the "no it won't work" side, for now, but that might change.
  • by Millennium ( 2451 ) on Monday April 12, 1999 @10:10AM (#1939058)
    You're a bit mixed up, I'm afraid, over the GIF issue. Unisys was being idiotic over a patent they held on the LZW compression algorithm, which is used in compressing GIF images. They were not being idiotic over a copyright.

    Copyrights are Good Things, when used correctly (an example: the GPL). It's patents which are causing all the trouble. Here's why:

    Let's say Unisys had copyrights on their code for the LZW compression algorithm. I could write my own code for LZW if I wished, and release it. I have violated no laws by doing so, because copyrights only cover one specific set of code.

    However, Unisys has a patent on the underlying algorithm. This means that I cannot write any code for LZW compression at all, because they have patented the idea (which I didn't think was supposed to be legal). Even if every single line of my code is different from the code Unisys uses, I have still violated their patent. Is that right? I don't think so.
  • Wait a sec while I put on my asbestos long-johns...--tug-- Okay. Flameproof for now...Controversial Thesis of this post: Trademark/Copyright protection of some kind IS absolutely necessary for the success of Linux. Some examples:
    1. Without trademark protection, anyone can call anything they want to "Linux", whether or not Linus agrees.
    2. Microsoft has a trademark on "Excel" for spreadsheets, however, they do not own any legal protections over the idea of a computerized spreadsheet. Which means that I can develop the most wonderful spreadsheet, etc. etc., but I can't name it "Excel".
    3. Without trademark law, if Microsoft originally released "Microsoft Navigator vX.X (Internet Explorer)as a crappy browser, then any other browser named Navigator would suffer because of the named association, and the original company would have no legal recourse to recover damages to their software's reputation.
    Alsop makes the point that Other software makers have been reluctant to create an alternate version of Windows primarily because of the threat of having Microsoft sue them. Smart people: Microsoft would have an excellent case if anyone tried to copy Windows or Office. What mindless tripe. I can't copy and sell Windows because I don't own the software or the copyrighted license to sell it. Companies haven't tried to duplicate Windows because of many other things, such as the high risk of creating an incompatible code base, etc.

    Instead, what I or anyone else can do is write programs/os/ etc. with all of the same functionality as Windows. Such as Linux + your GUI of choice + application software. The secondary authors just can't call their creation "Windows" or "Office for Windows" -- not that they'd want to, by the way.

    Finally, there is an issue completely neglected in this article which I would like to present [as a relatively unknown but copyrighted author]. Without copyright law, I could invest years in developing a novel, theatrical play, screenplay, etc. -- and the moment my work was produced --anyone-- could then reproduce, distort, etc. my work.

    Money issues aside, my "voice" is my own, and I deserve the right to keep what I say free of distortions. Just like Linus deserves the right (he holds the trademark) to say what is and isn't Linux.

  • by Millennium ( 2451 ) on Monday April 12, 1999 @10:04AM (#1939060)
    The difference between a copyright and a deed is actually critical. Why?

    A deed represents something tangible and scarce (that is, not in infinite supply). It does not represent any effort at all. It represents a thing. And this is good; it established the owner of that land.

    A copyright represents, essentially, thought. How can someone own a thought? The paper it's printed on, yes. Or perhaps the media. But the thought itself? That cannot be owned. For that matter, it cannot really be given away, for the giver loses nothing in the giving (indeed, it can be said that an idea is worthless unless shared, for only when shared can it be acted upon).

    Now, I don't think copyrights are in and of themselves bad things, but they're being horribly misused in the case of software (and don't even get me started on the idea of patents for software). But that's for another debate.

Show me a man who is a good loser and I'll show you a man who is playing golf with his boss.