Monday, July 16, 2012

Some possibly contentious thoughts on copyright law.

After reading a Forbes article about Megaupload and copyright law, I had some thoughts that have to do with copyright. I think they are relevant to the 'open hardware/software' movement. Keep in mind that these thoughts are mine alone and are not the statements of Open Source Ecology.

To me there are two kinds of things that can be created. The first is kind of thing can be reproduced for approximately zero cost (like music and text). The second type requires human or material cost of meaningful quantity to reproduce (like clothes and books). These two types I'll call Type Zero and Type One respectively. I can't think of anything that have used to be Type Zero and is now Type One. Can you think of anything? However, many things were Type One and are now Type Zero-- thanks Technology! The written word, engineering drawings, images, music and video are all examples.

Many businesses are based on using Type Zero things (such as engineering designs) to produce Type One things (such as cars). Copyright protects Type Zero things-- it makes something that is free to reproduce have a cost. Such protections have been historically needed in order to encourage invention.

Copyright has gone out of control in many ways. Plenty of people live without producing anything of Type One. These people depend on income associated with something they made of Type Zero. Think of a musician who is living off of royalties. It seems unnatural that a person can have one idea which guarantees their material wealth indefinitely.

Our economy has a lot of features which funnel money from the people that create Type One information (think factory workers and cooks) to those that create Type Zero information (think CEOs and Programmers). I find this ironic as Type Zero information is freely copy-able. Shouldn't it be in extreme supply?

Instead, Type Zero information is heavily protected, horded, and traded. The makers of Type Zero information are highly prized and rewarded while those that do Type One work are frequently devalued and left out in the cold.

An Open Economy can help to reduce this imbalance. By giving away Type Zero at all levels, competitive waste is reduced. Type One workers will have access to the designs for better tools and processes. They will be more productive as a result. The resulting market will produce only as much Type Zero information as needed instead of hundreds of variants all intended to circumvent rules about copying. Workers will be able to produce more Type One product for less effort. Prices will fall and work days will shorten.

We already know that a large segment of the population like to do Type Zero work. These are the Open Source programmers, hobbyist musicians, and filmmakers, and makers of all sorts. These people are working towards a world where they can produce less Type One product, live well, and truly explore their Type Zero aspirations. I am one of them and I hope we succeed.

[I'm not certain of my conclusions, or of the future. However, I'm excited to see the results of the transformation that is currently underway.]

Thursday, July 5, 2012

What is OSE doing in New York City?

What a whirlwind trip. This Friday I drove to NYC with my awesome family and stayed with Andrew and Chrissy (who also rock!). I helped represent OSE at For Humankind. It was awesome! I got to meet Aaron who will be living at Factor e Farm soon.

The event was a sort of exposition of human centered technologies. There were people turning soccer balls into little self charging batteries, others could turn any surface into a touch screen, yet others were working on turning algae into a high production bio fuel.

And of course, there was OSE. And my PowerCube! I got to show it off to others and explain the challenges of building it. I got to explain how the work of OSE made them inherently more valuable because it allows them to start a business that was previously out of their reach. I got to learn about their interest and goals. It was incredible how many intelligent, curious and engaged people came by to see what we were about.

I'm also happy to report that this kicked off some collaboration between Graham and myself. Graham will be building MicroTrac at FeF and we've been discussing goals and some design aspects. I'm excited to see what we come up with.

I've been invited to FeF, but given my current circumstances, I'm doubtful it would be practical (despite my real desire to make it happen). So for now, I'll work on getting my life in Detroit up and running. Then I'll finish my PowerCube and see what is next.