St. Columba: The patron saint of copyleft...

Lucas Gonze
Fri, 22 Mar 2002 10:16:58 -0500 (Eastern Standard Time)

ThosStew wrote:

> The fundamental legal, moral, and pragmatic basis for copyrights and patents
> is that producers of original work should, for a legally defined period of
> time, have exclusive right to the income from that work--FROM WHATEVER
> SOURCE--as a way of encouraging them to continue to produce the stuff.

Morally, the public interest is the groundwork.  The public interest is
served when intellectual property leads to production of the arts and
sciences, and also when free speech protects against tyranny.

Producers do not have exclusive rights.  They are granted a limited
franchise subject to whatever deal they can swing with the public, which
is leasing them a portion of the intellectual commons.  The intellectual
commons includes anything you can say or think, so this is a tradeoff
against free speech.

Using property rights to express this deal is a public policy issue.  The
public could lease rights "FROM WHATEVER SOURCE", but that's not intrinsic
to the definition of intellectual property.  For example, copyright
doesn't come with protection from political criticism, film critics are
allowed to summarize plots, is not blocked by copyright,

While the public has the right to trade away anything it wants, the
government has limited authority.  Even though the public might be happy
to swap general welfare for better sitcoms, it hasn't granted the
government the power to make that decision.

> But the fundamental
> principle holds: It's my stuff, and you can't have it unless I say okay.

Rights of producers are not a fundamental principle.  Rights of the public
are.  It's the public's stuff, and producers can't have it unless the
public says ok.

> To
> buy the pre-MP3 argument is to say that it is not  burglary for someone to
> enter my home and steal my valuables unless I have taken  pains to retrofit
> it with absolute state-of-the-art locks and burglar alarms,

To buy the argument that intellectual property can be stolen in the same
way as concrete valuables is to say that the public owes IP producers a
living.  It doesn't.  IP producers are as much responsible for finding
realistic business models as anyone else.  To say otherwise is to argue
that they have a moral right to be subsidized.

- Lucas