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Deconstructing Stupidity - Why is IP Policy Bad? 384

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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  • And just whos side is the electronics industry (e.g. computer and computer part makers, TV set makers etc). Obviously companies like Sony are a different kettle of fish alltogether :)
    • And just whos side is the electronics industry (e.g. computer and computer part makers, TV set makers etc). Obviously companies like Sony are a different kettle of fish alltogether :)

      I think you may have answered your own question. Lots of the giant companies, like Sony, have interest in both IP and hardware. They have to strike a delicate balance between making as much money as possible from IP and making as much money as possible from hardware. The bottom line is, as always, to make as much money as

    • by Shaper_pmp ( 825142 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @12:32PM (#12314278)
      Given the overwhelming happiness of naive consumers to use electronics with (even highly restrictive) DRM built-in (Napster-2-Go, iTunes, any non-native-MP3 digital music player), where is the pressure against strong IP laws going to come from?

      Strong IP laws allow electronics manufacturers to make it harder for third parties to interoperate with their kit, thereby increasing vendor lock-in (and hence, their profits - iTunes makes a loss, iPod rakes in money hand-over-fist).

      Weak IP means they can't stop people reverse-engineering their protocols and products and people can release cheap but interoperable knock-offs, which undercut their market and prevent lock-in.

      Were I a consumer electronics manufacturer, I'd be lining up behind strong IP as far as I could - it would be all pro and no con, as far as I could see.
      • "Were I a consumer electronics manufacturer, I'd be lining up behind strong IP as far as I could - it would be all pro and no con, as far as I could see."

        The 'pro' you list is definitely a big one, but it only works if your device is the big cheese in the marketplace. In your above example, Sony may very well want a little less IP protection for Apple. iPod's market domination is a 'con'.

        The reduction in IP protection would mean anyone could ATTEMPT to compete with the iPod, and the product that gav
      • Given the overwhelming happiness of naive consumers to use electronics with (even highly restrictive) DRM

        I'm not entirely sure you can call it "overwhelming happiness", maybe "overwhelming ignorance" is more accurate. In either case, I think we're going to end up seeing these very same consumers end up being more likely to violate DRM once they realize they don't have as much freedom as they thought. The first time Joe Sixpack realizes how difficult it is to make a mix tape of his favorite Toby Keith

        • The first time Joe Sixpack realizes how difficult it is to make a mix tape of his favorite Toby Keith songs for his sweetie

          Not difficult at all. Just run sound card output to tape deck line input. Ye cannae stop the analog hole.

          • At least, not until the next computer he buys has only digital output on the soundcard and the speakers have a digital input and a small D>A converter built in.

            Yes, the analogue hole still exists then. But the quality loss with using it along with typical consumer-grade equipment will be so great as to render widespread copying over many generations of the recording impossible.
            • 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 wil

      • Were I a consumer electronics manufacturer, I'd be lining up behind strong IP as far as I could - it would be all pro and no con, as far as I could see.

        I think in the long run, anyone who wants liberal or "fair" IP laws is pretty much going to be disappointed, as for voters its a non-issue and that leaves no opposing or balancing force against the efforts of lobbyists from the [RIMP]{2}AA, the big record labels, and studios.

        The other side of the equation is made up of EFF, ACLU, libraries, and a smatteri
      • That's a good point - consumer electronics companies benefit from IP jsut as much as the copyright cartel. That's why they are ambivalent, at best.

        I've been seeing the "market" for DRM-free content exploding recently. Our Media [], dead-simple free blogs, and Wikimedia [], Creative Commons [] is becoming downright trendy, and the library of share-alike content grows daily.

        Currently, device makers are riding on the coattails of open (or at least unclosed) standards (mp3) in order to sell their DRM-encumbered altern
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Because America bans things. We stamp things out. This is the nature of America as far back as the Puritans. We do not encourage. We do not foster. If something new springs up in America, it's because we didn't see it coming fast enough to ban it.

      Congress is not in the pocket of Hollywood. They just like to ban things. They like to ban boobs, swear words, and drug use on film. That's all anti-Hollywood. But then they also like to ban new technologies, so that's pro-Hollywood. Hollywood is success
      • Hollywood was created because of new technology, and the desire to evade Edison's efforts to enforce his patents.
      • "We stamp things out. This is the nature of America as far back as the Puritans. We do not encourage. We do not foster. If something new springs up in America, it's because we didn't see it coming fast enough to ban it"

        You mean like the US itself? Because, you know, it sprang up. I don't recall us trying to stamp it out.

        Then of coures there's women's suffrage, income tax, Social Security, and countless other examples of things that "sprang up" yet seem to have avoided being "stamped out"

        I doubt we miss
    • > And just whos side is the electronics industry (e.g. computer and computer part makers, TV set makers etc).

      The problem is that the decision makers aren't buying what the electronics makers are selling.

      "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

  • by ShaniaTwain ( 197446 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @12:16PM (#12314116) Homepage
    We extend protection retrospectively to dead authors, perhaps in the hope they will write from their tombs.

    perhaps they arent writing because they don't have enough economic insentive on account of those filthy pirates? did you ever think of that you insensitive clod?

    I've heard of ghost writers, but what about zombie writers?
    • Re:choice quote: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tomhudson ( 43916 )
      Good quote - actually made me RTFA.

      But what's going to happen when software is capable of analysing a writer's style, etc., and can grind out books long after the original author is dead?

      Obviously, the original author didn't write them.

    • I've heard of ghost writers, but what about zombie writers

      You've never heard of the great zombie writer John Doe? His fifth novel "Brains, sweet Brains" is a classic, a social commentary of the plight of the zombie in pre-Rodriguez America. He who walks in this world but belongs neither is this or the next.
      I love that opening line: "Ugggghhhhh,want braiiinssss...."

      Truly a masterful telling of the walking dead experience...

    • L. Ron Hubbard was noted for continuing to write and publish after he had died.
    • Re:choice quote: (Score:5, Informative)

      by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @02:05PM (#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 "

  • Money (Score:5, Interesting)

    by chiapetofborg ( 726868 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @12:17PM (#12314131) Homepage
    I think it partially has to do with the money. I was working at a educational instution, and I created a very complicated system to keep track of a lot of things, and a couple of the things we did were cool, and we were thinking about patenting it, but the cost associated with filing a patent was too expensive. If we had a really broad patent where we could patent the entire world then it would have been worth it. 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. If they grant your patent on the first time it wasn't broad enough, and you aren't worth your salt as a patent lawyer. That's the way patent laywers think these days, they try to patent the whole world. I think its a flaw of the system, becuase these broad ones get passed with way too much. More than they deserve.
    • Isn't having an overly-broad patent the quickest way to get it thrown out in court, though?
      • Re:Money (Score:3, Insightful)

        Yes, but that's exactly what they want. They want to be told exactly what it is they can't ask for after their patent is too broad, and why, that way they go back a second time, and just don't include the things that they aren't allowed to have, and they get a massive IP.
    • Re:Money (Score:3, Insightful)

      by justforaday ( 560408 )
      I think it partially has to do with the money.

      It doesn't partially have to do with money. It wholly has to do with money.
    • I think this points to the main problem: Patents are not bad, but the current 19th century implementation of them are. There needs to be a quicker patent review and rejection process. If you file a stupid patent, and it is approved, and you try to sue somebody.. they should have the opportunity to prove prior art and overturn the patent in a quick process (I'm talking like a patent review board, not the courts.)

      Also, software patents should carry a shortened lifetime of 5 years because software patents are
    • Re:Money (Score:4, Funny)

      by flyingsquid ( 813711 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @01:50PM (#12315059)
      That's the way patent laywers think these days, they try to patent the whole world. I think its a flaw of the system, becuase these broad ones get passed with way too much. More than they deserve.

      Actually, I did patent the entire world. Read US Patent Number 5,764,932: "Method for an inhabited world".


      A method and system for an inhabited world. The "world" consists of a large (~12000km diameter) spheroid of rock. The method for production involves accretion from many small planetesimals. The inhabited world has a molten interior, or core, and a hardened exterior, or crust. Approximately 75% of the crust is covered by highly saline water. A gaseous layer composed of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, .9% argon and various trace gases is present. Bacteria, plants and animals inhabit the upper layers. The system for producing these organisms involves adding large amounts of organic compounds to water and allowing them to undergo evolution via "Natural Selection"(patent pending) for 4 billion years.

      ...naturally, I'm going to be expecting royalty checks from every individual who makes use of my novel "world" concept. If you don't like that, just go live in an orbital colony or a Dyson sphere. Plus, I'm going to sue this "God" character for patent infringment- I really have no choice but to defend my intellectual property. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go patent the neutron.

      • Re:Money (Score:3, Funny)

        by calyxa ( 618266 )
        nice try, but patent number 5,764,932 is "Method and apparatus for implementing a dual processing protocol between processors" filed Dec 23 1996 and assigned to Intel.
    • Re:Money (Score:5, Informative)

      by Macadamizer ( 194404 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @02:15PM (#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."
    • Re:Money (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Shalda ( 560388 )
      No, it's entirely about money. Money gives you prestige and credibility. It buys you access. A $30k campaign contribution may not be directly a bribe, but it buys you access. The senator will take your call. The representative will meet you for lunch so that you can pitch your bill. They may even introduce your legislation verbatim. Everyone rides the gravy train. High level politics beats the hell out of working for a living and large sums of money keep you in office. Being in office keeps people
  • by dago ( 25724 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @12:20PM (#12314157)
    Aaaaah, _this_ IP policy, not the other one related to QoS ... ok,ok.

  • by flyingsquid ( 813711 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @12:21PM (#12314167)
    I recently read a book about "emergence": the idea that simple rules of interaction between unintelligent subcomponents of a system can lead to emergent behavior which is surprisingly complex and intelligent. In short, the whole is more than the sum of its parts; for instance, ant colonies, where the behavior of the colony is more intelligent than any given ant.

    It then occurred to me that many groups and institutions exhibit the reverse of emergence: you have complex, smart people making up your system, but when you get them together you get stupid decisions. In this case, the whole is less than the sum of its parts, sometimes less intelligent than any one individual. The obvious name for this phenomenon is "demergence".

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Yeah, it reminds me a quote from Terry Pratchet:

      The IQ of a crowd equals the IQ of the most stupid individual from that crowd divided by the number of people in the crowd.
    • its called 'groupthink' k.html [] [] 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.
    • It's also an emergent behaviour, emergence is not necesary good. It's just an institution where the agents implied don't cooperate but compete for the resources.
    • Hmm.. the theory of demergent phenomena might be useful to researchers who quest for Artificial Stupidity.
      • I had no idea there was a shortage of Natural Stupidity. We must begin conservation efforts immediately.

        No more soviet russia, overlord, or virii references in any of your posts please.

        Are you doing your part?
    • To quote Robert Heinlein:
      A committee is the only known form of life with six or more legs, and no brain.
    • you have complex, smart people making up your system

      Come on now . . . let's not give our corporate culture that much credit . . .


    • by kebes ( 861706 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @01:47PM (#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.
  • by Mysterian81 ( 823957 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @12:23PM (#12314180)
    I think one reason that electronics companies don't stand up to the music and motion picture industries is that the latter have unified organizations to act behind. To my knowledge, electronics makers are much more splintered than the entertainment industry. If the like of Sony, Panasonic, and others would band behind a single name, I think we would see more of a spine behind their agenda.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    If the copyright holder isn't making use of a property, there should be a process to turn the title over to public domain. Perhaps a set fee per year of copyright, like a lease.
    • It's an interesting idea, but you'd need to work out a system so that Joe Nobody, who starts writing a great online comic but doesn't have the money to afford a copyright licensing fee, can prevent Big Mega Corp from simply taking his idea and republishing it. Since Joe couldn't afford to pay the fee, is Big Mega Corp allowed to make all sorts of money off his idea? Sure, Joe wasn't making money of his idea, but that doesn't mean that he's not using it, and hence should turn it over to anyone who wants to
      • The Berne Convention allows something like this. Because the Berne Convention doesn't know copyrights, only the Author's right (and subsequent licensing of a subset), it works this:

        If an author licenses his rights to someone else, and the other one doesn't use it for a certain amount of time, the author can reclaim the license and publish the work himself or relicense it to someone else. It is not public domain though, but it gives the original author more control about the publishers and forces them to pu
  • Key questions. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NeuralAbyss ( 12335 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @12:24PM (#12314193) Homepage
    It's all well and good to look at the history of Intellectual Property law. It's good to look at how it's changed, and what got us to our current state.

    The question which many of these articles fail to address is this - Yes, we know the current state of IP is bad for the majority. Why do we tolerate it, what can we do to change it, and, most importantly, what is best for -society- as a whole?

    IP law that protects, say, drug patents for 60 years is bad - it enables drug conglomerates to develop medication and live off the proceeds for years without giving back to the community that granted the company a -temporary- monopoly.

    What is a fair balance between:
    * Sustaining the economy
    * Fairness to the general public (a balance between the public good, and ability for individuals to be employed by IP-centric companies)
    * Rewarding creators and inventors of intellectual property.

    So, if I may ask, what do Slashdot readers see as fair? I would suggest that we need to look at different copyright and patent periods depending on the type and application of an item.

    Additionally, what can be done about the state of IP law? Australia recently got reamed by the USFTA; and many other countries, as signatories to the Berne Convention, IIRC, have been forced to extend their copyright periods to meet other countries'.
    • Re:Key questions. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by sundiver90 ( 695540 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @01:00PM (#12314582)
      I think that as a community we should provide answers to key questions as well but I am interested in data-centric answers:

      1) Do patents stiffle innovation? That's the main argument pro/con. The answer HAS to be an economic one, ie an econometric study or something similar for me believe it. I hear too much rhetoric and NO hard data from either side.
      The U.S. Constitution, Article I. Sec. 8 believes protecting the right of inventors will encourage innovation. Our community keeps saying 'well, in software that's different, the framers never had software patents in mind'. We have to show numbers again for this. Software was once NOT patentable so the data is there.

      2) What is a 'good' length of time for copyrights? Yes, balancing the rights of authors to their works and the right of the public to access those works free of charge for fair use or after a 'reasonable' length of time makes sense. The issue of what constitutes 'fair use' and what is 'reasonable time' should once again be backed up with data that shows that under a given copyright system 1) authors are being remunerated fairly, 2) the creation of new works are not being unduly stiffled and 3) the public is not being hampered in their fair usage. My nirvana would be to run a copyright simulation engine that takes in different copyright models (ie times of expiration, usage scenarios, etc.) and outputs metrics such as income from works, amount of fair use, increase/decrease in works produced, etc.

      Anybody has any ideas on how to go about getting hard data answers to these issues or am I being naive and it is not possible to get answers?
    • * Rewarding creators and inventors of intellectual property.

      Fair is if the reward matches the amount of effort that went into creating the invention.

      Calculate the cost of the invention. How long did it take to create the invention? How much research money was spend? Include the wages of the people making the invention etc.

      Now add some proper bonus and allow the invention to be protected untill the cost + bonus has been reached.

      When patents started this was the model, but back then they just made a roug
    • Re:Key questions. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kebes ( 861706 )
      Well from the thinking I've done on the subject, I've come up with/come across 8 different schemes that seem viable, to varying extents. They all have their own unique problems and advantages. Briefly, these are some possibility that I would consider 'fair' (although I know that many slashdotters are not as socialist as I, and would not agree with some of these):

      1. Government Funding for the Arts

      Taxes are increased, and a government body redistributes money to content producers (authors, movie studios,

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 22, 2005 @12:28PM (#12314232)
    Expiration 50 years from the date of publication is very generous, it gives firms a heck of a long period over which to depreciate their assets.

    Then every month we'd be rolling in new properties into the public domain. Old Sinatra recordings and early rock 'n roll would be on tap this year, for instance.

    Most of the "great American songbook" tunes from old Broadway shows should already be in the public domain IMO. If their publishers haven't cashed out many times over, enough to pay for dozens of duds as well as the original hits, they don't deserve any more money anyway.

  • I got this far (Score:3, Insightful)

    by spidereyes ( 599443 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @12:29PM (#12314246)
    Since only about 4 per cent of copyrighted works more than 20 years old are commercially available, this locks up 96 per cent of 20th century culture to benefit 4 per cent After reading this my brain stopped working and I couldn't complete any more tasks, I'm going to do a reboot now.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 22, 2005 @12:29PM (#12314247)
    "The film and music industries are tiny compared to the consumer electronics industry."

    In the US, the film and music industries have an enormous domestic presence, employ a lot of people, and can mobilize performers on their behalf.

    With a few exceptions, the US consumer electronics "industry" is actually a bunch of importers of offshore designed and manufactured goods. They can't muster the bodies or the charisma to influence Congress. And most of the companies don't care if the products they sell are crippled by DRM, provided no one else is allowed to sell an uncrippled product.
  • Part of the problem (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nf1nk ( 443791 ) <> on Friday April 22, 2005 @12:29PM (#12314249) Homepage
    Part of the problem is that IP is currently an untaxable asset. It is something that you can have tons of in inventory, but its not bad in the same way that having two years worth of wigets in inventory is. This leads to hoarding, some companyexist only to hoard and licence out bits of IP.
    We Need to create an Intellectual Property Tax.
    This will keep corpoartions from hoarding and speed the flow of material into the public domain. If $Member-RIAA thinks $Boy-Band latest album is worht $50 mil let em pay 1% for the goverments protection. Since the IP cartels want real protection for their "assets" let them pay for it in the same way you would have to pay for real assets
    • >We Need to create an Intellectual Property Tax.

      So you and I will be even less able to compete with the big companies.

      No thanks.
      • You and I won't be hoarding $50 M worth of IP. If we have our ideas assesed and taxed perhaps we can come up with a reasionable value system. Perhaps we could add a short (5yr?) tax free period, or perhaps a floor below which you pay no tax ($10 M). At any rate IP has become an assest and needs to be taxed
        • > If we have our ideas assesed and taxed

          That idea is scary. Who does the assessing? What if they're wrong? You owe tax on a billion-dollar idea that in reality is worthless.

          Or what if they're right and you have a billion-dollar idea? You won't have the money to both pay the tax and develop your idea into a practical product. You'll end up selling your idea to some IP hoarder.

          But the biggest problem is the Orwellian creepiness of it. Taxing thoughts!
          • But the biggest problem is the Orwellian creepiness of it. Taxing thoughts!

            The government is already in the Orwellian business of granting monopolies on thoughts. What makes it any creepier to add some user fees to the process?

    • IP TAX, Hmmmm (Score:2, Interesting)

      by protolith ( 619345 )
      As Much as I don't like the idea of a new tax,

      This is actually a really good idea. If a patent has future promise, it is worth it to the holder to pay a yearly (or regular) fee to hold the patent (this is how mining claims are managed). The Shit or get off the pot appraoch to a patent would help.

      If a patent no longer provides income , or the income is less than the regular fee, it is no longer economically viable to hold on to the patent, then there is a chance for a final cash in, eithor sell to an inte
      • They already have it, for patents at least: scroll down to Patent Maintence Fees []

        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.
    • Wow, this would solve a LOT of problems. America is quickly becoming an IP nation. If you had to pay to keep your IP alive, at least after a period of time, then you're going to get a HUGE tax revenue, or a great commons. --Michael
    • I don't get it--since when do we tax assets? We don't do that here in the US, and I didn't think that Europe did, either. Keeping 2 years worth of widgets on hand isn't expensive because of taxes, it's expensive because of the storage space it takes up.

      But on top of that, companies already DO pay for the government's "protection": they pay corporate income taxes, sales taxes, and more.

      And it's kind of silly, from a tax standpoint, to let the individual companies determine the value of their own intelle
    • We Need to create an Intellectual Property Tax.

      So if I understand the argument correctly, we have a problem that is due to a whole bunch of antecedent factors, like bad law, muddy thinking on the difference between a property right and a temporary monopoly, etc. Your proposal is, rather than to fix the cause, to apply a band-aid solution that may, theoretically, ameliorate some aspects of the symptoms.

      That is, you're proposing a kludge.

      That's not good engineering, and it's not good law either.

  • by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @12:29PM (#12314255) Journal
    Some of what he says makes sense, but at one point he appears to be drawing a false conclusion.

    He said: "The point was made by an exchange inside the Committee that shaped Europe's ill-starred Database Directive. It was observed that the US, with no significant property rights over unoriginal compilations of data, had a much larger database industry than Europe which already had significant "sweat of the brow" protection in some countries."

    But there's more to it than copyright. It's very difficult to access a corporate database to copy it, so copy protection is quite strong with or without legal copyright protection. Something that is more likely to have hindered the European database industry is stricter data protection laws. When you have to register, and are not allowed to sell information to anyone and everyone without exlicit permission, the industry sector is going to be a lot slower. This is simply a tradeoff between econmic growth and consumer protection.
  • Duke's school (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GPLDAN ( 732269 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @12:32PM (#12314281)

    It has a lot of articles in the same vein. We can see Linus wrestling with this himself, having to stop and work on a new tool for code revision.

    The U.S. should lead on this, instead, we are regulating away any competitive advantage our market provides. If I want to write an open source project, I can get blitzed by lawsuits from software patents I don't know exist and may have been filed in a trivial way. It kills innovation, stifles the creativity of the citizens to build, and only allows those with existing wealth to further aggregate and hold it. It's the same with the stock market. The commission model favors large institutional investors who can move 100,000 shares easily, and not the guy who can only afford to trade 100 or even 1000 shares.

    I've nearly given up on Washington to do the righ thing. It now falls on the judiciary to become activist and overturn or find unconstitutional some of these patent laws. With Tom DeLay openly advocating violence against judges, it's obvious, this is a class war, and IP is just one of the weapons.
  • It's not policy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jafac ( 1449 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @12:34PM (#12314303) Homepage
    The reason it's bad is that it's being driven by ideology, not pragmatism.

    Ideology says: "If we don't give the corporations what their lobbyists want, which is a guaranteed percentage of ROI for R&D dollars spent, all innovation will grind to a halt!"

    Pragmatism says: ". . . to promote the useful arts and sciences. . . for a limited time. . ." (actually, that's what the Constitution says).

    There's still a place for patent and copyright law, but the effect of today's laws is to remove the risk from R&D spending for large, established corporations, and eliminate competition from the marketplace. It has a detrimental effect, overall, on innovation, because it creates unnecessarily high barriers to entry in many markets and industries today.

    This is an area of policy where lawmakers really need to tear everything down, and go back to what the Constitution said about Copyright, and what the Founding Fathers intended. Otherwise, the Free Market will make us it's bitch, and overseas competitors with less draconian IP law will supplant ours (already happening in some areas).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 22, 2005 @12:34PM (#12314305)
    I think our society just has an "unhealthy respect" for musicians and actors and so forth.

    Imagine if plumbers demanded that you pay them every time you use the sink they fixed. Or if doctors wanted a percentage of your income earned with that broken arm they mended. You'd laugh and say "I'll just find another guy that doesn't demand those ridiculous terms". Or put another way, the free market would quickly eliminate those types of contracts.

    But it's not that way with, say, musicians or other creative professionals. Probably because each musician is unique in some sense, and also the average Joe doesn't have a clue how to make a good piece of music.. so when you tell somebody that musicians are being "stolen" from, they feel more sympathy. They don't want the artist to "starve".

    I mean, look how we worship (and pay big bucks) for Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, etc. There's a feeling that there will never be another one *just* like Elvis. And somehow people don't question this ludicrous state of affairs (dead people having these dynasties where they continue to get paid for work already completed).

    That's the vibe I've gotten from people, anyway. We worship entertainment in this society.
  • by gr8_phk ( 621180 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @12:34PM (#12314307)
    From TFA "Did this lead the committee to wonder for a moment whether Europe should weaken its rights? No. Their response was that this showed we had to make the European rights much stronger."

    IP laws are not about rights. They take freedom (to copy, to innovate, to use an algorithm, etc) from the public and grant exclusive permission to a private entity or individual. It's clear that if you want widespread innovation the solution is to loosen the restraints on the public - i.e. strengthen their rights.

    I'm not totally against "IP". I think 14 years was an OK term for copyright, and that patents shouldn't apply to software or trivial ideas.

  • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) * on Friday April 22, 2005 @12:35PM (#12314314) Homepage Journal
    Extending the principle of true cost pricing [] to maintaining the social construct [] of property rights, one can see that the taxation of anything but property rights themselves is an inappropriate basis for government as the only fundmental job of government, outside of defending life and limb, is protection of property rights. While one can make an argument for taxing right to life and limb as well it is more difficult due to the determination that slavery, and hence ownership of human capital, is not consistent with the social construct of property rights.

    It's ironic that the only asset the Feds charge a protection fee for is patent maintanence. If there were one asset that should be exempt from such protection fees it is inventor-owned/assigned patents since by putting capital in the hands of the inventors themselves you are far more likely to create the sort of society that can sustain other sorts of ownership rights.

    What we do instead is subsidize the protection of property rights of acquisitors -- with the dire consequences now observable in the technology creation field.

  • by ShieldW0lf ( 601553 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @12:38PM (#12314338) Journal
    Let me be clear. IP is a good thing.

    Just lost me. IP is a tax on people who use an idea to benefit the person who first brought it to public attention. It is useful only insomuch as it encourages the USE of new and better ideas. Discovering an idea, having an idea, these are not a benefit to society in and of themselves. The benefit of a good idea is measured in how broadly it is utilized compared to conflicting inferior ideas. Having the idea in the first place is a prerequisite, but only that.

    So why is it a given that IP is good? Creating an inclination to have ideas by creating a disinclination to use them is NOT the open-shut case that the author or anyone else makes it out to be.

    If we're really interesting in furthering society, we should be setting up a system that creates motivation to create new ideas and ALSO creates motivation to USE those ideas. How that should work is open to debate, but the fundamental premise is not. It is an obvious and incontestable fact that motivating people not to use good ideas hurts society to some degree or another. If a mechanism that has that as an effect is considered at all, it should be the last option that is considered when all others have been exhausted.

    Can any intelligent human being really deny this?
    • Creating an inclination to have ideas by creating a disinclination to use them

      Is that really what patents are for? Is that really the general effect they have? I disagree wholeheartedly. Granted I only took one Intellectual Property course at University, but aren't patents supposed to allow the holder to profit by them by disclosing them to the public for the benefit of all? Patents expire. People build upon old ones or design around current ones. (Google design around patent if you don't believ
      • aren't patents supposed to allow the holder to profit by them by disclosing them to the public for the benefit of all?

        Maybe in the dark ages that's what they did. Now a patent serves the opposite purpose. If you use an idea, but it turns out that it's covered by a patent, then you may end up in court and have to pay a fine. But if it can be proved that you used the idea knowing that it was patented the fines are increased (tripled I think). So lawyers in many companies will tell you never to look at pate

      • Is that really what patents are for?

        No, it's not.

        Is that really the general effect they have?

        "You may not use this idea unless you pay money" would certainly motivate most people and organizations I know to look for alternatives.

        You go on to talk about how people design around patents. That is exactly my point. People intentionally avoid using ideas because of the patent system. A lot. How can you say this is promoting innovation?

        Granted I only took one Intellectual Property course at Unive
  • That's why. And it's not new.

    Why are the drug policy so bad?
    Do a recursive "Why are [insert indiotic policy] bad?", the awnser is: Special interest groups subvert the demographic process through bribes and threats.

    Might makes right, money is power.
    Until the revolution comes, get used to it.
    • Might makes right, money is power. Until the revolution comes, get used to it.
      What makes you so certain the system will be any different after the revolution?
  • Political economy (Score:3, Informative)

    by xy ( 49954 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @12:57PM (#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 []

    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 Anonymous Coward
    Because it's going to slow down technological advances, giving us time to work on our society. Fewer fusion power plants, more riding bikes and planting trees.

    More parenting, fewer gadgets. We need a good score of years, just working on American society. We need to get the ghettos cleaned up, we need to bus kids from LA to Montana for their primary schooling (K-12). We need yearlong school sessions, with a rotating schedule of instructors.

    And with IP stagnating tech advancements, it's really the best way
  • by torokun ( 148213 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @01:04PM (#12314621) Homepage
    Are slashdotters so unoriginal that they will let language like this story header's go by with nary a comment? This story is just dripping with assumptions and unjustified bias.

    Do you want a discussion or a rantfest? The article brings up some good issues, but assumes from the outset that many policies are "bad" only because it seems to be common sense. Common sense is a good guide sometimes, but shouldn't always be taken as unassailable. There are many counterintuitive effects in the operation of economic incentives.

    This header frames the article in such a way as to draw unthinking rants against IP policy, rather than a decent discussion. This is one of the reasons so many have stopped reading slashdot.

    To give the author of the article some credit, at least he admits that "IP is a good thing" near the end. It is.

    The goal of IP law has always been to find a way to incentivize innovation without unduly burdening society. If you learn about all the equitable doctrines involved in copyright and patent law, you'll see it's true. There is a real effort to be fair and equitable.

    There are many problems in the operation of the system, as well as in some of the copyright legislation, as with all aspects of government. But framing the dialog in this way is not productive...

    I've said this before here and I'll say it again. Even though all you coders know you want to throw out that ancient spaghetti codeded system and start all over, you can't and you know it. It's often there for a reason and needs to be respected as something that works, for good or for ill. It may need to be refactored, but not trashed.

    That is the proper approach to law as well, and I'd like to see some responsible recognition of that in slashdotter circles.
    • The goal of IP law has always been to find a way to incentivize innovation without unduly burdening society. If you learn about all the equitable doctrines involved in copyright and patent law, you'll see it's true. There is a real effort to be fair and equitable.

      What is innovation though? Is it having an idea, or using an idea? If I come across a way to dramatically improve say telecommunications, but the highest return for me lies in pricing it so high that only a small segment of society uses it and
    • by Detritus ( 11846 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @02:00PM (#12315167) Homepage
      Sometimes the proper approach is to line up the old guard against the wall. Some systems of law and regulation become so complex, entrenched and counterproductive that radical action is required to solve the problem.
    • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @02:39PM (#12315716) Journal
      Anyone who has actually examined the state of IP law today (patent, copyright, trademark, and trade secret) and doesn't use words like "incentivize" already KNOWS it's screwed up.

      There may have, at one time, been an attempt to be fair and equitable. Any fairness has been and is being stripped away in all those forms of IP.

      Copyright, of course, is the biggest and most well known. Copyright terms have been expanded enormously and registration requirements eliminated. Fines and penalties for violations have increased vastly. What have those who benefit from works in the public domain gotten in return? Nothing; this has all been a gift to copyright owners with no fairness or compensation.

      On top of copyright is the DMCA. DMCA 512 gives copyright owners the extraordinary power to get the effect of a restraining order against an alleged infringer without going through all the rigamorole of actually getting a judge to issue one. DMCA 1201 gives the force of law to technological protection measures which restrict use of a work in arbitrary ways which go beyond copyright. What have those who benefit from the public domain gotten in return? Again, nothing.

      The latest insult in copyright is the new law criminalizing even more copyright violation, and giving theater owners carte blanche to beat up anyone who attempts to violate copyright within their theater. What did the other side get in return? The undisputed right -- as if they didn't already have it -- to blank out sections of a copyrighted work without actually making a copy.

      With trademarks, the biggest gift has been the trademark antidilution act, the "winner-take-all" act. Now, if your mark is "famous" enough, it doesn't matter that an alleged infringer is in a completely different field of endeavor; your famous mark covers everything. This is what Monster Cable has used to go after such diverse groups as Disney (Monsters, Inc), MonsterVintage clothing, and

      Trade secret protection is an abuse in and of itself; patents and copyrights are supposed to encourage release of ideas by protecting them once released. Protecting trade secrets allows "IP" holders to have their cake and eat it too -- they can keep the idea secret but still have it protected by law. Any trade secret protection which imposes penalties on those who weren't covered by an NDA in the first place is an abuse.

      Patents, of course, have been discussed ad nauseum on Slashdot. There are multiple problems with the system, but most of them are hidden by the biggest one, that of totally bogus patents being granted. These are overbroad patents which patent any solution to a problem rather than a given solution, patents for which prior art exists, patents which are obvious given the prior art, and patents on things which have already been done but are now being done in a different venue (the "...on the Internet" patents).

      If those weren't granted, then it would be a lot easier to evaluate whether or not software patents and business process patents per se were a problem. However, given that software and business process patents seem to attract such abuses, it's fair to consider them suspect.

      Anyway, my point is that any clear look at the situation reveals that the laws are totally screwed up and that trying to frame it as a basically sound system with a few problems is ridiculous. It's totally screwed up, completely one-sided, deeply flawed, and (because that's the way the politicians are "incentivized") will continue to get worse.
  • by jwd-oh ( 513054 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @01:05PM (#12314634)
    Since software is ultimately nothing but math and math cannot be invented only discoved (2+2 always equaled 4, E always equaled mc^2, calculus was all around us, is merely had to be discovered and expressed), then how can software be patented? It merely had to be discovered and expressed (copyright or left counld apply to a particular expression).

    This hoarding of knowledge could ultimately be our undoing. An example: The fact that parts of the human genome are "locked" up in patents, prevents mankind the benfit of of that knowledge.

    The classic part of economies are "make something" or "do something". Now we have folks that don't make anything and don't do anything, they merely demand payment for knowledge, so that someone else can make or do something.

    This is a very scary trend that shows no sign of stopping.

    People need to remember: "Knowledge is power, but only if shared". Hoarding it hurts us all in the long run.
    • Pure mathematics and laws of nature cannot be patented.

      Software is not these things. It is code that performs a function for a user like a machine, and does i/o that is relevant to the real world.
    • "People need to remember: "Knowledge is power, but only if shared". Hoarding it hurts us all in the long run."

      The reverse, Knowledge is power, only if held - is perhaps more true in society. Thats why artificial monopolies (diamonds, software, etc) continue to exsist. Power is only meaningful if there is someone to be powerful over: ie, someone who lacks knowledge. Its called exploitation, or capitalism.

      I know this is not good for society i am just pointing out that thats the way capitalism works. Social
  • by jeff_schiller ( 877821 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @01:08PM (#12314656) Homepage
    It's a big problem with no simple solution. The real problem is trying to put a container around ideas and concepts and calling them "Intellectual Property". But that's what the Information Age taught us: Ideas are extremely, extremely Valuable.

    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).

    If I create something useful, it would be nice if I get compensated for my efforts. If I create something really popular, it stands to reason that I would be compensated on a relative scale. If I create something and someone comes along and steals all my ideas and makes a fortune on them, that's an injustice.

    If there were ZERO IP laws, then you favor those with the big bucks. Simple: steal some idea, market it as your own and drive everyone out of business. Corporations would chase away any monetary incentive to create something and artists/developers would only be left with "personal pride" as a motivator.

    Unfortunately, "personal pride" does not put food on the table. Thus, you definitely need IP Laws in order to police the soulless corporations who only see dollar signs.

    Just off the top of my head, I feel that corporations should not be allowed to own IP. It doesn't feel "right" to me. Corporations are soulless, mindless entities with money, they cannot actually CREATE. What I mean is, only the ACTUAL creators (i.e. people) would be able to own the IP and (as employees) could license it exclusively to their employer for a maximum of 2 years (or some reasonably small number).

    This still gives corporations incentive to fund research and secure the IP, and get a product out before competitors, but it reduces some of the incentive to blindly secure IP wherever they can.

    When the "exclusive" term is up, the actual creator(s) can market the IP anywhere (including to their employer) but it can never be "exclusive", meaning if a competitor is willing to pay the license to the employee, the IP owner cannot refuse. They can even release it to the public domain.

    I know this doesn't actually solve the bigger problem but it feels like a step in the right direction to me anyway.
    • No, I don't agree with you.

      Information and ideas are only worth any dime WHEN you are using into your products, services, etc. If you will be smart enough to create idea, you will be smart enought to get till the end. I, as a man with lot of very good ideas, can say, that idea by itself is NOTHING. Repeat after me, NOTHING. If I have very good melody and idea how to bring it to my fans and listeners, I just record it, sing it - and copyright law covers it. I don't care that someone listen it and get inspir
    • 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 j

  • The different interests of media companies and equipment makes goes some way to protect us. But Sony is now a big player in both areas, and can be expected to go for whichever side it expects to be more profitable. Such cross-ownership puts all the decision-making power in one place, and should be prevented by government regulators.
  • by alahan27 ( 878156 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @01:15PM (#12314708)

    I think that the U.S. should do away with the "Credited to" part of patents. Inventors should be able to LICENSE their works to companies, not sell them. Usually, the person who came up with the invention gets screwed, and the corporation makes out with the big bucks.

    An example of this is Kary Mullis, who invented PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction). PCR is a breakthrough process that allows for specific strands of DNA to be replicated, often up to billions of times, quickly and easily. Mullis got paid $300 million for his invention by a corporation to sign off the patent to them. PCR is now a multi-billion dollar-a-year industry, and the company profits while Mullis watches as he doesn't get a share of the pie and counts his remaining money from 15 years ago.

  • in 2001, he wrote:

    I think there are a lot of things wrong with how copy protection techologies are being foisted on an unsuspecting public. I'd like to hear from you a similar discussion. Being devil's advocate for a moment, why should self-interested companies be permitted to shift the balance of fundamental liberties, risking free expression, free markets, scientific progress, consumer rights, societal stability, and the end of physical and informational want? Because somebody might be able to steal a

  • by sac13 ( 870194 ) on Friday April 22, 2005 @02:26PM (#12315493)
    The way I see it, there are two seperate arguments in the IP debate.

    First, there are the technological patents. I believe that if a company or person invests its resources in the development of a technology solution, then it has the right to enjoy the benefits of that development how it sees fit (for a reasonable period of time - we have to allow for truly innovative ideas that change the world and become ingrained in our culture(s)). That is a necessary component of innovation. People need that incentive to work toward something. Some people are looking for financial gain (Microsoft). Other people just want recognition (FOSS developers - although some get financial gain also).

    The problem arises when patents are granted for obfuscated ideas. The operative term in my argument for protecting someones technological solution is SOLUTION. Abstract ideas that anyone could come up with if they only had a high enough grade of pot don't qualify as solutions. The patent office should not be awarding patents for those... but they are. That's the problem with that side of the IP debate.

    The other side of the debate is creative content and copyrights. With this side, I believe that the content creator has the right to protect their creation and distribute/use/sell/whatever any way that they wish. However, today, most of the issue is with copyrights that aren't owned by the creator. Most artists sign over the copyright of their recordings to the record company in exchange for the power the record company suposedly has to make the artist more money.

    There's nothing wrong with that, except, as TFA points out, the rights are retained long after the production is no longer commercially viable. So, the productions end up not being accessible to the public because it would actually cost the record company money to release the recordings or publisher to print a book for sale. So, these companies sit on the work and deny the public usufruct just because they can't make money on it.

    Today, most recordings are only commercially viable for a few years. Very few, such as Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, continue to sell and be produced for longer than 5 years. Copyright law should provide that if the product is not commercially viable, then the copyright should be released to the original creator. If the creator doesn't want to make it available, that's their perogative. However, most artists I know would rather have their works enjoyed than sit on them. I believe that that would resolve the copyright issue.

The human mind ordinarily operates at only ten percent of its capacity -- the rest is overhead for the operating system.