Reply to post: Open source: prelude to wholly unshackled culture?

Michael Howard: Embrace of open source is destroying 'artificial definitions' of legacy vendors

Long John Silver
Pirate

Open source: prelude to wholly unshackled culture?

Success of open source underpinning to commercial provision of goods and services has wide ramifications.

It underscores the futility of argument to the effect that ideas can be property to be traded as if physical artefacts subject to scarcity. The 'property' concept underlying copyright and patents arose purportedly as means to protect creative individuals from being ripped-off by commercial entities engaged in plagiarism. Incidentally, trademarks are an entirely distinct concept based upon pragmatic justification; these despite being subject to abuse, which ought be curbed, are a sensible arrangement.

Running with copyright in this discussion, it's clear that what may have been a good intention had seeds for many ills to come. Publishers arose offering an almost essential service in the days when the culture of ideas (e.g. academic literature, general literature, and musical scores) was propagated primarily through print. Publishers acquired 'rights' of their own to the layout and fonts of works they distributed. They began buying exclusive or partial 'rights' from the original copyright holding person(s); no longer were they merely agents for distribution: they became players in a market for 'rights'.

Introduction of parallel technologies for recording sounds, for recording still and moving images, together with immense effort to curb other technologies promoting 'infringement' (e.g. photocopiers and home tape recording) led to huge rafts of law of increasingly Byzantine complexity. It became way beyond the understanding of ordinary individuals and most businessmen.

The immovable fly in the ointment for those doing very nicely from trading distribution rights was introduction of digital representation for a huge swathe of culture. Gradually, it dawned that messages and media, i.e. ideas and the physical substrate upon which they are inscribed, are separable. Not only that but digitally represented ideas may indefinitely be reproduced without degradation and at negligible cost, Physical media are subject to the economics of scarcity and markets. The 'message' definitely is not. The Internet underlines that fact.

Digits cannot be corralled. Once loose, sequences cannot be kept behind gates and made accessible only by paying a fee to the gatekeeper. That is a fact. It has nothing to do with sentiment over protecting creative people (generally hypocritical nonsense from distributors leeching away the lion's share of income generated) or with demand for respect for the law; law never has been immutable nor wholly congruent with prevalent moral precepts. Ever more absurd technological and propaganda attempts linked with draconian measures are made to protect the interests of traders in and distributors of specious 'rights'. Add to that increasing awareness by ordinary folk (so-called 'consumers') that popular culture is distributed in restrictive and price-gouging manner leading to mass disobedience of copyright, facilitated by opportunist alternative providers, and you have almost the entire spectrum of culture from academia to fans of caterwauling youth beginning to make common cause.

The most egregious effect of monetising culture through fantasy economics inapplicable to digital sequences lies not with sapping a nation's disposable income and thus denying it better use within an economy but rather in stultifying the creative process itself, the very thing copyright sought to protect, through, in effect, prohibiting 'derivation' which is the cornerstone of creativity. As an aside, impediment to academia takes place through a different mechanism.

Business engaged in producing and/or using open source software (distributed under a Creative Commons licence or similar) unleashes creativity, some from unexpected quarters. The US independent software industry is cursed by copyright and by patents being applicable to code. Copyright, as in force elsewhere, is bad enough.

Perforce, copyright across the range of culture, and some patent restrictions within and without the realm of software, will eventually be abandoned as both a legal and a moral concept. It will be replaced by entitlement to attribution wherein the greatest sin is plagiarism and the only crime is misrepresentation so as financially to feed off the reputation of another.

Whether this shall happen before, and thus abort, or after the next anticipated round of Luddite endeavour is moot. I refer to 3D printing. Recipes for printing are digital in nature and thus cannot for long be corralled. Powerful interests will call for curbs on access and restrictions on use; photocopiers, home music taping, domestic video recorders, US DMCA type restrictions on breaking DRM, and so forth, will reincarnate in new context. Lessons won't have been learned. Successful creative people and business entrepreneurs will work with the new tools at their disposal; by eschewing monopoly founded on nonsense and embracing opportunities offered by unbridled freedom to innovate, they shall thrive. Meanwhile, a host of unwanted middlemen trading rights and controlling distribution of digital artefacts shall dwindle to nothing.

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Released under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 international license.

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