[MUD-Dev] patents and muds

Caliban Tiresias Darklock caliban at darklock.com
Mon Nov 1 14:20:25 New Zealand Daylight Time 1999


On 09:45 AM 10/18/1999 +0800, I personally witnessed Joel Kelso jumping up
to say:
>
>A (_the_ ?) defining attribute of property is that it is
>exclusive: if I have this rock, it means that you don't have it.  

And furthermore, that if the rock is yours, and I turn up with a rock just
like it somewhere else -- I must have stolen your rock. With physical
property, this is the case. With intellectual property, *I* can have an
idea that *you* already had without ever discussing anything related to
that idea in any way, shape, or form. 

>Since physical property is all our economic systems really know about,
>we end up having to do things that are on the face of it bizzare in 
>order to shoe-horn the intellectual into the physical property model 
[...]
>just so that "manufacturers" of intellectual property can survive in 
>a competitive market.

Which is actually fine, provided you aren't blocking the creation of *more*
intellectual property. If you patent "a strategy game with dice", then no
one else can make a strategy game with dice. You can play lots of strategy
games with dice. I don't need to use your ideas to make a strategy game
with dice. Intellectual property laws as they stand are far too restrictive
and far too vague. When one drum beat from a musical piece -- not a
measure, not a phrase, just a single drum beat -- constitutes copyright
infringement, the system has become ridiculous. 

>I'm not saying the system doesn't work, its just that the capitalist
>idea requires that ownership be ascribe to _everything_ of value, 
>leading to strange consequences such as the idea of "owning" an 
>algorithm.

There are limitations placed on IP law. Artists are assigned exclusive
rights for "a limited time". That limited time ranges from fifty years to
in excess of a hundred and fifty. I don't find these sufficiently limited;
while many terms and processes can and do pass from specificity to common
usage in a matter of five to ten years (or less -- who doesn't recognise
the phrase "oh my God, they killed Kenny"?), the barriers of IP law prevent
many things from truly entering common usage. 

>There are alternative economic models for supporting intellectual
>endevours: everyone gets together pay for research, and make the 
>results available to everyone. 

Then why research? Someone else will do it. Then you can use what they did.

There *has* to be a reward for research. There *has* to be a benefit to
being the first in a market to release something. But that benefit does not
have to be half a century or more of exclusive rights. I don't see why five
years isn't long enough, with four permitted renewal periods -- you create
something, and you have exclusive rights for five years. Following that,
you may at your option (and for a fee) renew those rights four times, for a
total of twenty-five years... and then your work passes into the public
domain. Only the first term is free. 

Five years is more than enough time to dominate a market. Twenty-five is
approaching the extreme, but should be permitted for truly powerful
creations that are used widely. I don't have too much of a problem with
allowing 25 years of exclusivity *if* you actively maintain it. But here,
too, the question complexifies. (Is that a word? Oh, well... it is now.)

Problems arise with certain art forms which are by their very nature
"permanent", such as sculpture and architecture. The market for sculpture
is very different from the market for software. I am still wrestling with
the problem of rectifying these issues; it may be that we must divide art
into the separate forms of "fine" and "popular" art somehow. The easiest
way to define this is to look at the mass production aspect; when
mass-production via assembly line or factory replication is authorised, the
art enters the "popular" art realm. When only the original or a
limited-edition production is authorised, it remains in the "fine" art
realm. But here again the line blurs -- because Beethoven's ninth symphony,
while undeniably "fine" art, is made available via CD and cassette. Does
this make it "popular" art? 

It is all too easy to draw lines based on this industry or that industry.
The requirements of engineers are far different from those of writers and
musicians, which in turn are far different from those of sculptors and
painters. Clearly, something more complex is needed to differentiate.

>Of course, every piece of free software released creates "prior art",
>and eliminates an opportunity for intellectual property abuse.  MUDs 
>alone must demonstrate prior art for hundreds ideas.

The phraseology is a major point of contention for me. When someone patents
"a client-server database architecture in which clients request data from a
main server for a fee", they've patented a whole stack of things they have
no right to demand restitution based on. It is too general and too easily
abused. Nearly every fee-based client-server application falls under that
patent, with no effort or innovation from the patent owner. This is just
plain wrong. Any system which would allow this is inherently broken.

-----
| Caliban Tiresias Darklock            caliban at darklock.com 
| Darklock Communications          http://www.darklock.com/ 
| U L T I M A T E   U N I V E R S E   I S   N O T   D E A D 
| 774577496C6C6E457645727355626D4974H       -=CABAL::3146=- 



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