Re: IP Protection ...

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From: Stephen D. Williams (
Date: Fri May 11 2001 - 14:36:52 PDT

John Hall wrote:
> Michael McLay wrote:
> > knowledge. When knowledge is shared, like it was by Newton, Einstein, and
> the
> > IETF participants, then everyone in the world benefits. When knowlege is
> > hidden in the trap called binary software protected by "intellectual
> > property" laws then the only one to benefit are the people who control the
> > access ot the knowledge contained in the source code.
> Complete BS. The central flaw occurs when you assume that IP protection has
> no relationship to the protection of IP. No protection equals damn near
> zero IP.

That may be a correlation, but not an absolute by any means.

In any case, the benefit of open IP vs. closed IP is completely
different in both quality and quantity (non-open IP has a much more
limited lifespan). The benefits, and more importantly the
opportunities, to the creator of the IP are also much different.

Absolute IP control and overcontrol of derivatives leads directly to
stagnation. Current music couldn't have been produced without the
musical trends that came before to inform. Similarly with technological
and scientific IP.

> There is nothing STOPPING you from discovering your own IP and sharing it
> with the world. IP laws only prevent you from stealing the work of other
> people without paying for it.

And "Open IP Laws" (i.e., GPL, et al) exist to prevent you from
"stealing" the work you are building on to create your new IP. You are
agreeing to give back, to a certain but not complete extent, because you
were given so much to start with. This is indeed part of the scientific
culture that has brought us to this point.

There are variations of this that are very interesting. I like the ID
model: give away source to old, played out versions as you build much
better versions. Very much like a patent system whereby R&D is
recovered during an exclusive period after which it is open.

In fact, following this logic, you could see a possible mini-patent on
software. Assume that copyright on source code was modified to be more
like patents: You have exclusive control for a reasonable period (17
years is no longer reasonable 90% of the time), after which you must
publish the source code. This publishing need not be 'public domain' or
even GPL, et al, but rather could have a 'derivative return' license
that meant that you could use it for anything but any income you produce
would generate small royalties for the antecedant IP creators.

GPL is a model directly derived from 'public domain' that greatly
amplifies the concept of 'public domain' to a much more complete social
contract. A good legal derivation (i.e. from the Magna Carta and
English common law on, as legal scholars are so fond of) relating public
domain, GPL, science, discovery, copyright, and patents would be highly
interesting. It would make a good book.
> BY DEFINITION anyone paying for IP is better off than they would have been
> otherwise. Nobody buts a gun to their head and demands they buy a piece of

You should say that they Believe they will be better off, or believe
there's a chance they may be better off.

Anyone who's seen some of the idiotic movies lately can tell you it's
not a definite relationship.

> software. Again, each and every individual in the chain I mentioned is
> better off, along with other people that become better off due to the
> general wealth increase. Which is, namely, everyone.
> > So know when Acme
> > Software decides to stop selling product X the knowledge contained in that
> > product simply disappears.
> Not that this is a significant loss, otherwise Acme would never have stopped
> selling the product.
> > The Constitution did not intent knowlege to be
> > considered a "property" in the same sense as physical property.
> The Constitution is properly silent on the issue. It only granted the
> ability to protect intellectual property as a general grant of authority to
> the federal government because it was seen as beneficial to society. Which,
> of course, it has been.

The ability to partially protect IP has caused this. Complete IP
control or overly restrictive derivative and fair use work would be a
disaster if it ever became totally enforcable.

> > The fact that open source code exists in
> > abundance proves that the copyright laws do not need to protect the source
> > code in order to encourage people to produce software.
> Of course few people run open source in comparison to closed source, and
> much of the open source software available involves clones of work done
> originally in closed source environments.

You mean like GNU/Linux/Apache, i.e. over half of the webservers in the
world, which is patterned in part on a lot of work done at public
universities? Did ATT develop BSD networking? (Gee, I seem to remember
having to get Wollongong TCP/IP for System V.3 on my old NCR 32 tower
(Motorola 68020, 16 serial ports, battery backed UPS for instant
suspend!, circa 1985).) VI? etc. etc.

> Your objection to IP protection is not based upon protecting open source,
> open source is doing fine. Your objection is that it allows people to
> produce a product and make a living doing so. You would rather steal their
> work, or have them not do it at all. That is hardly a defense of individual
> interests.

I don't know what he intended, but I have no problem with producing
closed source when it is appropriate. On the other hand, it is becoming
increasingly difficult for certain solution spaces to nominate a closed
source solution as most favored. Web servers are an obvious example,
program editors are an old one, portable compilers and languages, and of
course Linux is quickly converting the OS space. Video and audio codecs
are another. (I've been trying to figure out if the Mpeg4 license
allows distribution of source. It literally says that as long as it is
used as part of an Mpeg4 compliant system, the authors release all
rights, but not for other uses.)

There are also many spaces with no close competition: advanced 3D tools
(Lightwave 3D, miles ahead of POVRay, et al), large ERP, etc.

The point is that anything that is desirable enough by enough people
will eventually become a commodity. Since commodities, at the limit,
are not profitable, companies move on to new products or niches. Part
of the dynamic of GPL is that anything that gets a critical mass of
interest, relative to the complexity of the problem, will become a
'project of the commons'. Companies that don't adapt to the changing
market are doomed just as companies that ignore any market force.

> > > Protecting property increases the value of all property, and results in
> > > more of it, for another group of individuals (the human race).
> >
> > That's bullshit. Especially in the context of so-called "intellectual
> > property".
> It is just Econ 101. You ought to try taking it sometime.

My 3rd grader had a good introduction to Econ a couple weeks ago!
I, in fact, didn't have a formal Econ course, but instead have been
practicing entrepreneurialship since I was about 11.

Protecting property is important, but certain kinds of absolute
protection are bad.

> > Try this restatement:
> It wasn't a restatement. The key in the above sentence is the definition of
> property and making something property. The 'hiding' aspect of it isn't why
> it works.
> > It isn't IP, that is important to improving the human condition. It is
> > knowledge that is important.
> Knowledge is IP. And with the protection of IP you get more IP (knowledge)
> than you otherwise would. Far more.

Sure knowledge is IP, however most knowledge is cultural IP, i.e. owned
by everyone. It's the marginal, unique, and useful IP that is
personally owned and monitized.

> > The primary reason people live longer today is because of improvements
> made
> > at the turn of the century that targeted public health problems and
> because
> > of improvements in the food supply.
> All a product of being wealthier.

And much more knowledgable about many things. Wealth is measured in
many ways, and knowledge, mainly public IP, is one of the most

> > When Bill
> > Gates complains about people stealing his "property" he is twisting
> reality.
> Property sold under a contract. The theft is in breaking the contract.

> You are free not to buy his software. But agreeing to purchase a license
> under
> his conditions, and then violating that license, is theft with a capital T.

Because of monopoly status, and reality, this is not totally true.
Because of illegal tieing practicies like forced bundling with PCs, this
wasn't true at all.

> > My, my, the world would
> > probably fall apart within the week.
> You can live off of a societies past for awhile, witness the various
> communist experiments. It is the replacement of the things that are
> consumed, and the lack of new creation, that causes such experiments to
> 'fall apart'.

Definitely. People can, however, band together to cooperate in narrow
fashions to confront a regressive force.

One example would be the Savings and Loan in "It's a Wonderful Life"
that allowed people to avoid regressive Potter practices and allow them
to build and own houses.

Another would be Ohio farmers creating a cooperative insurance company,
now known as Nationwide Insurance (and no longer a cooperative, an
interesting history probably).

Credit Unions exist to avoid paying unnecissary profit to banks for the
flow of money.

These things are not communist due to their prevention of a profit on
every activity. They are a recognition of a commodity situation and its
reduction to a sort of economic mechanization.

> > There have been many very important contributions to the world made by
> people
> > who gained no compensation for the knowledge they created. Is that fair?
> Yes, though not material. Yes.

Fair? Depends on definitions.

> > Today drug
> > companies will let people die of aids simply because those people in poor
> > countries are unable to pay the government enforced monopoly prices (20
> times
> > the cost of production) to the drug companies. This episode in humanity
> will
> > probably be compared to the holacost by future generations. Are they
> being
> > fair?
> Without the drug companies, there would have been no effect drugs to fight
> aids at all. Yes, they are being fair. I see no moral problem in not
> selling drugs to people who can't afford to pay for them.
> That doesn't prevent YOU from buying the drugs for them, but you don't want
> to do that, do you? You want to steal the work of other people. Why aren't
> you sitting in a lab trying to come up with a new aids therapy?

Without limits to the monopolization of IP, there would be no
competition or progress at some terminal point. Sure, those that make
an investment should have a good chance at a fair profit, and sometimes
a fair chance at a great profit. They shouldn't however have a
permanent guaruntee of unlimited profits. For drug companies, patents
expire and generics take over. This is usually fair. If it takes 16.5
years between patent at end of trials, that might be unfair. The
inventor of TV was screwed this way because the first World War made it
impossible to monitize his invention before the patent ran out. Is that

> You focus is misplaced. You should be noting the people that today survive
> because of these aids drugs. Without the ability to sell the products of
> their research, those drugs would have never seen the light of day.
> Nothing was stopping an African from creating the drug therapies and giving
> the discovery away. But that didn't happen.

Tough issue. Should be solvable by some kind of credit or land or trade
of some kind. The issues are not so simple here.

In fact, we're probably going get a vaccine from Africa (a la Washington
Post today).

> > The profit motive is not the only motive for humans.
> No, but it is a major one. And it while it doesn't prevent love from
> working, it works when love doesn't. The larger the social unit, the more
> the profit motive is the dominant motive.

And profit is a proxy for other motives most of the time.

> > The improvements that
> > were fundamental to increasing the lifespan of humans
> Was directly tied to the increase in wealth associated with the profit
> motive.
> Note the different lifespans in wealthy countries vs. poor ones, despite the
> same knowledge base and potential for government actions.

Not the same knowledge base. Having the entire Library of Congress on a
single disk would not impart the important and relavent bits of
information needed to internalize and act the way we can, having grown
up in our rich (money, media, skills, examples) environment.

> > With the 17 year duration it
> > is effectively an unlimited duration on technology that will cease to
> exist
> > before the patent runs out.
> Hardly. The duration is 17 years. Your complaint is that the knowledge
> won't have much value after 17 years, and I fail to see the point or the
> importance.

See above about the value of limited vs. permanent IP protection.

> > The Sonny Bono act extended it to 90 years so Disney wouldn't have the
> > copyright run out on Micky Mouse.
> You have a point there, though trademarks are / should be forever.
> > When was the last time Microsoft was responsive to your demands?
> In terms of building products that have a great deal of value to me and that
> I pay for? No other software company on earth is even remotely close.

Sucker. ;-) Yes they provide value. Is it what it should be with real
competition? No way. Should part of what they make be a commodity?
Yes. The existance of Linux, which in many technical ways is better, is
proof that the OS is a commodity, unless you illegally tie enough
additional applications into it.


Stephen D. Williams
43392 Wayside Cir,Ashburn,VA 20147-4622 703-724-0118W 703-995-0407Fax 

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