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Deconstructing Stupidity - Why is IP Policy Bad? 384

Posted by Zonk
from the making-trouble dept.
An anonymous reader writes "There is a good attempt on the Financial Times site by James Boyle to explain why intellectual property policy making is so bad. From the article: 'These are the ground rules of the information society. Mistakes hurt us.... Why are we making them? To some the answer is obvious: corporate capture of the decision making process. This is a nicely cynical conclusion. But wait. There are economic interests on both sides. The film and music industries are tiny compared to the consumer electronics industry.'"
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Deconstructing Stupidity - Why is IP Policy Bad?

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  • by zxnos (813588) <zxnoss@gmail.com> on Friday April 22, 2005 @11:29AM (#12314248)
    its called 'groupthink' http://www.abacon.com/commstudies/groups/groupthin k.html [abacon.com] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groupthink [wikipedia.org] basically no one wants to upset the apple cart, derfer to 'superiors' etc. people want to be liked and seem intelligent, ants just follow pheremones.
  • Political economy (Score:3, Informative)

    by xy (49954) on Friday April 22, 2005 @11:57AM (#12314536) Homepage
    The political economy of the process of IP legislation and internationalization is critical to consider in this context. The construction of these policies have to do with the narrow self-interest of corporate actors and how they are able to sell their case to political policymakers. For example, the conversion of IP law from an abstract problem to a trade issue addressable through the United States Trade Representative office has allowed the US to pursue the IP agenda of large corporate actors outside the bounds of IP-related treaties.

    If you are interested, look at this book: Private Power, Public Law: The Globalization of Intellectual Property Rights, Susan Sell [amazon.com]

    It's a great in-depth analysis of this topic and very enlightening for anyone who thinks this debate is somehow easy to understand.

  • by krysith (648105) on Friday April 22, 2005 @11:58AM (#12314563) Journal
    They already have it, for patents at least: scroll down to Patent Maintence Fees [uspto.gov]

    I had a patent which I was making no income off of, nor did ever expect to, so I stopped paying the maintence fees a couple of years ago. It's now in the public domain.

    Copyrights, on the other hand, are free to create (although not to register and enforce) and last effectively forever. Copyright reform is a real necessity.
  • by kebes (861706) on Friday April 22, 2005 @12:47PM (#12315018) Journal
    There is also a principle in psychology called "dilution of responsibility." A group of people may collectively agree to something risky or immoral, even though each individual person disagrees with the decision, and would *never* act that way on their own. Essentially, each person feels that they are not uniquely responsible for the decision, and so are more prone to making decisions that are dangerous or rash (since they don't anticipate having to answer for the decision).

    This phenomenon in some cases results in a large crowd of people watching a crime, and no one actually does anything (or even calls the cops) because everyone assumes that someone else is taking care of the problem. This is also why it is highly recommended, in an emergency, to not just say "help" but to single out a particular person, point at them, and ask *them* for help.

    The same principle seems to be at work with IP law. Most people, if they really had to think about it, wouldn't support the status quo, but everyone somehow feels that it's someone else's problem.
  • Re:choice quote: (Score:5, Informative)

    by fyngyrz (762201) on Friday April 22, 2005 @01:05PM (#12315209) Homepage Journal

    perhaps they arent writing because they don't have enough economic insentive on account of those filthy pirates?

    I definitely think that is not the case.

    Among other things, I own a literary agency. One of the oldest and most prestigious agencies in the US specialized in science fiction and fantasy. My remarks come from that perspective.

    There is no shortage of writers. Quite the contrary. In fact, there is no shortage of good stories and good writers.

    What there is, is a shortage of readers, more specifically, there has been a major, major downturn of book-buying.

    That makes the publishers a lot less likely to buy a book. Especially good ones; the ones that make it to the shelf are the titles that are perceived by the publisher as likely to be "popular", and for reasons that make perfect economic sense: Shelf space is limited (fewer bookstores) and shelf time is limited. If books don't sell, they are remaindered or destroyed for credit (that's a very odd quirk of the publishing industry, and believe me, it has major effects on the publisher's bottom line.)

    Americans, at least, are deploying the theatre of the mind upon television, movies in the form of DVDs and other recorded media. Books in general, the writer's bread and butter, are dropping in popularity like stones in the face of the new technologies. I'm not saying this isn't a natural consequence of progress, and I'm not complaining -- I'm just explaining.

    The bottom line is that commercial writers are, in fact, having a harder time of it. The environment is such that it is definitely more difficult to sell your work. In this context, most writers welcome the idea that whatever work they do manage to market, will turn income for them for a longer period of time -- facing the idea that there will be less of it, they hope that what there is, can earn more.

    Now -- personally -- I think they're mistaken if they take this view. There are other factors, particularly the very short time-to-live in terms of bookstore shelf life for even very, very good titles -- that will prevent long-term copyrights from giving most of them any income. The ones that do succeed, definitely make "enough", IMHO. A movie deal, something that is reprinted several times and is well accepted, those are serious cash cows for a writer. But they are astonishingly few and far between.

    But the fact is, writers are not in control of this process. They are for the most part an economically weak class, and cynical or not, I truly believe that the political decisions that drive copyright law are made by money. If you consider who absurdly long-term copyrights and other IP entropy such as software patents do benefit in a consistant, industry wide fashion, you'll inevitably find yourself looking at the publishing industry (not writers -- publishers), the movie production industry, and the commercial software industry. Whatever they can create, they get to hold on to, for longer; charge for, longer; license, longer.

    I would submit, not very humbly, that writers, musicians, and software authors (I also own a software company, a very successful one, and I am a musician and recording studio owner) are more than productive enough, generally speaking, to not require these long-term protections. In fact, I rather think that a truly productive author/coder/musician doesn't need them at all. Hardware patents are different, in that the financial outlay to create, and the margins once created, are so represssive to the process itself that there needs to be a follow-on reward, especially for things like chip fab IP where the outlay for the next fab is in the billions at this point in time.

    Anyway, this is an issue that I have to deal with not just every day, but every hour of my working day (and I think about it a lot of my off time, too.) I am convinced that the US government, at least, is doing far worse than being "

  • Re:Money (Score:5, Informative)

    by Macadamizer (194404) on Friday April 22, 2005 @01:15PM (#12315298)
    In my talkings with one IP laywer he basically said he works under the following mindset: Ask for the world in your patent. They will narrow it for you saying what you can and can't have.

    This is maybe a bit off-topic, and is actually a very technical point, but if that's what your IP lawyer told you to do, I hope he said that a few years ago. Current caselaw (Festo in particular) would actually make your patent coverage NARROWER if you followed the above advice than if you had tried to get it right the first time. What your IP guy has described is certainly the way patents were written and prosecuted up until a couple of years ago, but the law now basically makes that approach sorta suicidal -- nowadays, if you have to amend your claims to get them issued, then you are only allowed to enforce EXACTLY what you claim, and no more -- you lose the advantage of what is called the "doctrine of equivalents."
  • He'll just mention it at work, and someone there will say that their brother's 14 year-old kid knows about all that stuff, and the kid will order a greymarket converter from China for 5 dollars, and charge 20 bucks for it.

    It will be a perfectly legal speaker decoder, proobably the exact same thing you get in Chinese speakers, that plugs into your digital speaker out, except sending the signal to a DAC, it has a USB plug on the other end that shows up as a stereo sound input when you plug it in.

    The guy will neither know or care he's breaking the law. Basically, exactly the same way Job 6pack gets music off the net...everyone knows a guy who knows a kid who can hook them up, and they just do it.

    They can't keep drugs out of this country, and you can detect those a hell of a lot easier than you figure out what a random circuit board is for.

  • by civilizedINTENSITY (45686) on Friday April 22, 2005 @03:41PM (#12317357)
    Protection for IP is in place to give monetary incentive to people (or corporations) to create things (in order to drive the economy, make the world a better place, etc).

    Constitution, which in article I, section 8, clause 8, gives Congress the power "
    to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."
    It is exactly the "limited Times" that seems to be forgotten. The purpose is not just to foster the creation of new things (to drive the economy), but to reward the creation of new things for the purpose of increasing the material in the public domain. Perhaps you've confused the incentive for the purpose?

Lo! Men have become the tool of their tools. -- Henry David Thoreau

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