For MLK & Internet Freedom Day: Do the right thing!

We stand on the edge of a new economy, looking out on potentially vast riches for all humankind.  These are not riches dug from the Earth — they are riches of personal wellbeing and shared creativity.  For that reason, the only limits lie in our ability to create together — and in the legal impediments we place upon ourselves.

The idea of copyright, of intellectual property, is a new one.  In the thousands of years of legal tradition upon which our global civilization relies, copyright is only a few hundred years old.  It was created in patent law and copyright law with the explicit purpose of providing wealth to creators, artists, authors & investors, encouraging them to create and share their creations, and thus to enrich their national communities.  Intellectual property is the plainest of social contracts: we agree to refrain from producing our own copies and derivative works, or to pay a fee to create them, because we believe that this will produce two results: creators will create more, and the populace will receive more value.

This bargain has not been fulfilled; we should call it null and void, and put another bargain in its place.

Creators do not create more, in the current copyright and intellectual property system, than they would without it.  In fact, copyright and patent law are often the primary obstacle to creative work, collaboration, and the creation of new wealth.  Where such laws are not enforced, we see an explosion of creative work, rather than a withering away.  For example, in the Nineteenth Century German states, publishing of all sorts thrived, measured as a ratio of published works to the size of the populace — especially in comparison to what we might think of as a center of innovation, Nineteenth Century London.  The same continues to be true when we compare the modern Nigerian film industry to America’s Hollywood.

It is true that some business models depend on patent law. Pharmaceutical companies rely on it to guarantee repayment of vast research expenses.  But new pharmaceutical products are often deeply flawed in ways we understand only after years or even decades of misapplication — pharma research is private intellectual property, hidden from the view of both regulators and the scientific community except as revealed by the commercial funders.  And the medical industry that depends primarily on pharmaceuticals for elimination of disease never gains the benefit of herbs, massage, diet changes or other interventions that cannot be patented, because the research system is geared toward those interventions that will produce large dividends for pharma shareholders. Taking that industry as an example, the public would be better served by public funding of medical research, with drugs companies competing to manufacture safe and effective generics rather than invent new patent remedies.  Between public funding, crowd funding and the offering of prizes (such as the various X Prizes), there are enough sources of capital that the promise of patents is unnecessary if not outright pernicious.

In fact there is reason to believe it is pernicious.  The vast wealth at our fingertips will only arise for us if we are able to work with one another’s ideas.  We must be able to remix, recombine, and transform previous work.  Vast restrictions on public dialogue have been put in place, ostensibly to protect the rights of creators but in fact to protect the ever-encroaching IP portfolios of non-productive middle men, copyright and patent trolls.  If we threaten creators with poverty and jail, we make ourselves poor and imprison ourselves.

How does the widespread sharing enabled by the internet allow us to enrich the world without destroying our planet’s biosphere?  First, through the creation of virtual goods, experiences and culture that leaves people happier, more knowledgeable and better connected to one another and the world they live in (as argued by many people, including Jane McGonigal).  It is true that our machines we use to get online do cost the Earth, but that cost too can be reduced over time.  Second, through the development of open source ecologically-sound technologies such as Permaculture and those pioneered by the Open Source Ecology project.  Third, through the development of ever-more-humane ways of organising people, as demonstrated by the global co-operative movement and the global Sociocracy movement, both of which offer their key principles and tools on an open source basis.

The solution is simple.

First, do not comply with unjust laws.  Share information widely.  Always acknowledge your teachers and sources, pay artists and inventors, but do not pay middlemen who will only use your money to pay politicians to remove your freedom of speech.

Second, release your work under Creative Commons and Open Source licenses (especially CC-BY).  You benefit from being better known; the world benefits from being able to build on your work.

Third, vote, donate and volunteer for political and activist groups that seek to eliminate the current definition of intellectual property and defang the bloodsucking profiteers that maintain and extend it.

Fourth, free any prisoners and forgive any debts associated with the current regime of IP law.

We can build a world with vast wealth for all, wealth that does not destroy the Earth or deprive other people, but only if we are free to collaborate and distribute our designs to all.  Anything that stands in the way is immoral and must be overturned.

Posted: January 20th, 2013 | Author: nate | Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments Off

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