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.]