Copyright and patents are NOT property 2005-04-12

Dana Blankenhorn posted an excellent rebuttal to Jonathan Schwartz' latest tripe:

"Let me respond as clearly as I can. I don’t believe in IP. Patents and copyrights are monopolies, allowed under the Constitution for limited times and for a limited purpose, to encourage the creation of more. Those I believe in.

The phrase intellectual property does not appear in the U.S. Constitution, and for very good reason. The phrase is a lie. It turns ideas into land, and allows corporations who own the vast majority of patents and copyrights to control anyone who doesn’t serve them."

Dana is absolutely right - The very term "intellectual property" is an attempt at perpetuating a myth created by owners of vast amounts of copyrights and patents.

It is an attempt at a land grab where no land currently exists. Ideas used to be entirely unprotectable, for a very simple reason: There is no cost in duplicating an idea. There is no scarcity that justifies a perpetual "ownership".

Copyright and patents in their modern forms were a compromise inteded to stimulate the arts and sciences by making economic exploitation of ideas and expressions of ideas more profitable. Not an attempt at creating property.

If corporations such as Sun wants to keep pushing an agenda that is based around redefining their rights and responsibilities at the expense of the general public, perhaps it is time people start reading up on the origins of US corporate charters, and the states rights to revoke them (exactly to protect the public against rogue corporations attempting to subvert democratic control).

er... something tells me Dana would be real upset if someone took his published copy and stole it. The only thing preventing someone from doing that is... US Copyright law. He's a tad on the massively hypocritical side.


You miss the point. Neither Dana nor I are attacking copyright law. Merely the misconception that copyright and patents are property. The very term "intellectual property" is meaningless. Copyright and patents, as Dana wrote, are time limited monopolies used by governments as a tool to give an incentive for the advancements of science and the arts by creating a greater economic incentive for it.

However the very term "intellectual property" is an attempt at steering the public debate about these towards support for a massive virtual land grab: Property rights are far more extensive than copyright and patents were ever intended to be.

The term "intellectual property" is popular with rights holders because it promote the idea that copyrights and patents are "natural rights" that the creator of a work are naturally entitled to, as opposed to a grant of rights that come with responsibilities - that is, copyright and patents come with the explicit expectation that the work will eventually enter the public domain and thus can become the basis for further progress.

The paradox is that many rights holders have built large parts of their business on reusing works that have entered the public domain (think Disney). Many of the same rights holders are now fighting tooth and nail to prevent the same to happening on their works (think Disney)

Sorry, not buying it- Sun has invested massive amounts of money into building products, based on an expectation of economic return. They delivered them into the world under a license that lets me use them without giving my life away. I like that. Dana's trying to position Sun as evil because they didn't use the GPL. I don't want the GPL in my products, I want the freedom to choose.

You're still missing the point. Dana doesn't criticise Sun for not using the GPL. He is criticising Sun - or rather Schwartz - for trying to paint GPL as something that destroys "intellectual property". Sun invested those massive amounts with the expectation of a certain time limited protection for what they created. Fine.

Neither Dana or I are suggesting that protection should go away - in fact, the GPL is DEPENDENT on the continued existence of copyright, because that is the only mechanism that allows the GPL to require to add requirements for the release of source code.

I think you need to re-read Dana's piece and look at what it actually says.

For instance this paragraph:

Let me respond as clearly as I can. I don’t believe in IP. Patents and copyrights are monopolies, allowed under the Constitution for limited times and for a limited purpose, to encourage the creation of more. Those I believe in.

The issue here is not the GPL or not the GPL, but the attempt to paint the discussion as property or the destruction of property, when no property is involved.

The only one painting anyone as evil here, is Schwartz, who tried presenting anyone using the GPL as imperialists "forcing" those poor developing countries to give up their precious intellectual property because of the GPL. Completely ignoring that people are doing it knowingly, willingly and because they've decided it serves them better than the model Sun is advocating.

Again, Dana's being inflammatory - saying "I don't believe in IP" is dumb. He is paid for his IP, that's his only asset. And I've seen a ton of companies unknowingly include GPL code in their products - and have had to counsel them against using it for just as you suggest. Now that Sun has CDDL, they're safe - as are countries that unknowingly incorporate it into their IP (deliberately stated as such).

You're also suggesting Schwartz is saying GPL is anti-IP. It's not, you should read what he writes, not how Dana interprets it.

And again you ignore the main argument - namely that the very term IP is an attempt at twisting the agenda. Not believing in IP is smart - there is no such thing as intellectual property. Copyright and patents are not in any way legally equivalent to property. The very term is an attempt at confusing matters.

And if you've seen tons of companies "unknowingly include GPL code in their products" you have seen companies that could just as easily incorporate code licensed under any other license "unknowingly". In other words you have seen companies that apparently are very lax about respecting your precious "intellectual property".

Any company that incorporates any code in their product without verifying the license it is under are certainly not taking copyright law very seriously and have far larger problems than the GPL to worry about.

The GPL is no different from CDDL or any other license in that not complying with it is a violation of copyright law. The "unknowingly incorporate" argument is a red herring: The problem you are pointing out is that companies frequently ignore the law and tries to grab other peoples code without complying with the licenses.

And I've read lots of Scwartz' comments, both his "I believe in IP" piece and the reports where he compared GPL to imperialism (which is mainly what Dana commented on - something which is perhaps unclear from my original entry), and I stand by everything I've written. Schwartz is the one who is being inflammatory here.

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