Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Autonomy - Freedom of Thought - A Passage

Just thought I'd share a passage from a draft of a book I just finished reading. I enjoyed it very much, and thought you might like to read it as well. There are many passages which I find well-written (though there are still a [relatively small, but noticable to a pedant like me ;-) ] number of grammatical errors that need to be corrected), but I thought the following was interesting.

The following excerpt is from Autonomy - Freedom of Thought (warning: large file, on an encrypted server) by Jean-Michel Smith, and is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 license.

Ms. Katy Sinclair

Special Agent, Intellectual Property Crimes

Federal Bureau of Investigation

I apologize that our conversation earlier upset you so much. No one can be expected to take the passing of a family member lightly, even one that happened so many years ago.

However, I believe you to be an honorable person, and if we find we cannot be friends, and are destined by our differing philosophies to be enemies, let it at least be for the right reasons, based upon an honest intellectual and philosophical disagreement rather than a misunderstanding exacerbated by incorrect information.

First, on the subject of your grandfather's financial difficulties which led to his suicide. Please find attached the text of his recording contract. You will notice that, while his compensation for CD (“compact disk,” a form of media in widespread use during the late 20th and early 21st century) was standard for the industry of the day (at USD $0.49 per copy sold), no compensation for songs and albums sold in electronic format was specified. As a result, he was only compensated USD $0.0023[6] per download. That is less than one quarter of a cent per copy! Worse, as the consumer market moved from CD to SmartChip media, the lack of a contractual clause specifying new and emerging media resulted in his compensation remaining low for physical sales (also USD $0.0023).

Look at the sale's figures of your grandfather's albums. His sales were at the top of the charts for several years after his royalties fell off to only a few thousand dollars per year. Not because his fans weren't buying his music (they were, in record numbers!), but because he had the misfortune of having most of his music sold after compact disks had been phased out by the industry in favor of DRM copy restricted SmartChips, sales of which his recording company compensated him less than a quarter penny per copy! I urge you to use your own investigative resources to verify what I have written here. The contract is still being honored, and is still on file with Media Associates, and may be easily compared with the copy I have provided here.

Once you have satisfied yourself on this account, I urge you to ponder the greater question of just how much the cost, to our society and our economy, of creating an artificial scarcity of information, be it human knowledge, through patents, or human expression, through copyright, can be justified.

You may not realize this, but copyright was originally created as a means of censorship by the British crown, to combat the free expression that threatened their control of public information with the advent of the printing press. The number of books printed were reduced to one third their former number immediately, and publishers were able to create a cartel which they continue to enjoy today. This concept was extended later to recorded music, video, and ultimately the creation of 'virtual machines' in the form of software. Indeed, in the technology sector the line between copyrighted expression and patented invention has been completely blurred.

At the turn of the century, with the passage of the now-infamous Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) by the United States congress, at the behest of the media and copyright cartels of New York and Hollywood, copyright law came full circle, returning to its origins and once again becoming an effective tool of corporate and government censorship on what was at that time a new publishing medium: the Internet. This censorship persists to this day.

Not only has copyright failed to protect artists like your grandfather from the depredations of the recording industry, but it has crippled the ability of generations of artists from pursing their craft by fostering a cartel of publishers which maintain an iron fisted control of the marketplace. No author can be published, no musician heard, no filmmaker regarded, but through the channels controlled by their respective publishing cartels. The promise of the Internet as a means to bridge the divide between artists and their fans has all but been destroyed, thanks to legislation passed by your government and later integrated into our international accords, at the behest of the very cartels it should have circumvented.

Even more appalling, consider Brazil's successful battle against AIDS, waged in direct violation of international patent law, against tremendous pressures brought to bear on them by the American and European governments at the behest of western pharmaceutical companies.[7] Recall the number of researches who had to give up their scientific inquiries in search of treatment for AIDS, and breast cancer, when presented with Cease and Desist letters from patent attorneys employed by pharmaceutical companies alleging that such research violated patents already granted. This delayed a cure for AIDS by several years, at least, and still ties up cancer research to this day.[8] We know today that patents nearly always stifle rather than promote research, and that privatized, twenty year monopolies locking down new lines of technical and scientific development have a profound, domino effect in restricting and even preventing progress.

If our current technical lead over your crippled industry, as represented by the equipment which you and your colleagues already have in their possession, isn't enough to underscore this point, allow me to present one more historical reference: the airplane. Invented at the beginning of the twentieth century by the Wright Brothers, it was truly an invention worthy of a patent by any standard. New, innovative, truly an invention the world had not seen before. Anyone believing that the patent system is an appropriate methodology for compensating inventors would surely agree that the inventors of powered flight more than deserved the patent they were granted.

Yet, with the onset of the First World War it became very clear to the United States Government that aviation technology in the Unites States lagged woefully behind that of Europe, which was not encumbered by the a patent on airplanes. This was such a concern that the United States government, in an unprecedented action and a tacit admission that patents impair, rather than promote, progress, essentially nationalized the Wright Brothers' patent, granted them a default 1% royalty, and threw the technology open for competing companies to develop and improve upon.[9] The result as a tremendous leap forward in aviation technology, so much so that, in later decades, the United States became the world leader in the production of aircraft.

No one creates in a vacuum. All of us, whether we are artists, researchers, inventors, or scientists, stand upon the shoulders of others. No novel can be written, no movie filmed, no song recorded, no device invented, without it incorporating some aspect of another's work, some early bit of human expression or knowledge. Copyright locks up expression for generations ... with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the US Congresses propensity for retroactively extending it, virtually forever.[10] Patents cripple progress in a variety of fields, from software development to medical research, locking down the building blocks for each successive step in development for twenty years in a government mandated and enforced, twenty year monopoly entitlement. There was a time when progress was thought to be exponential, but as each new area of human endeavor fell beneath the yoke of the US and world patent system, this exponential progress was lost. Pundits and intellectual property attorneys euphemistically refer to this as a “maturing market,” but in truth none of the technologies have ever had a real chance to mature, even today, and the markets in question would more accurately be described not as mature, but as stagnant.

So long as we take the shared knowledge of humankind and treat it as a private possession limited to a few through patents, so long as we take the common culture we all share and treat its expression as a private possession through copyright, we will as a society find our technological progress stifled and our ability to express ourselves subject to corporate and government censorship of the worst kind.

I, and others, have chosen to reject this. Our reward for doing so has been a return to exponential scientific and technological progress, our punishment has been to become hunted, by you and your colleagues.

We mean you no harm, we offer you no threat. We only asked to be left alone, to pursue our own interests and our own destiny, independent of the one you have chosen for yourselves.

Please, leave us in peace and allow us to do the same for you.

Thank you, and best regards,


More linkage tomorrow. It's bedtime.
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