Subject: Re: The term "intellectual property" considered useful
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Sun, 07 May 2006 00:40:43 +0900

>>>>> "Ben" == Ben Tilly <> writes:

    Ben> I suppose that I should also never simplify any technical
    Ben> topic for my audience?  And while I'm at it, I should always
    Ben> request an education rather than a simplified answer from
    Ben> people whose expertise I do not share?

Of course you should, and while you're at it, of course you should
not.  But it's as simple as this:

    "Intellectual property" is a term used to denote certain "rights"
    such as patent and copyright.  Although it is arguable that
    creators have certain natural rights in their creations, that is
    not how the law sees it.  The Constitutional foundation in the
    U.S. is an explicit trade of public benefit from wide diffusion of
    innovations, for a limited monopoly protected by the government.
    Like all monopolies, these have detrimental effects on the
    economy.  There are strong arguments that in important cases the
    detrimental effects outweigh the value of the "protected"
    innovation.  To understand the costs and benefits of these
    monopolies, we must realize that there are several kinds of
    intellectual property, and consider the details of each.

We have a definition with examples.  We have natural rights,
franchised monopolies, detrimental effects of monopoly, (social) costs
and benefits.  We have an explicit statement of the limits to the
generalization.  All of this is familiar to the general public, at
least at the level where they've gone beyond "less filling"
vs. "tastes great" and are now concerned with "free beer" vs. "free

    Ben> My position here is not one of arrogance.  I am merely
    Ben> suggesting that we should act as I would have others act were
    Ben> the tables turned.

But that *is* arrogant.  What makes you think "how *you* would have
them act" is what *they* want from you?

Specifically, every sentence of my statement above begs a host of
questions.  Which ones my audience cares about is something I have
rarely been able to guess successfully.  Let *them* ask!  I think it's
extremely presumptious to say "I know you're not interested in
anything general, so let's go directly to the definitions of 'patent'
and 'copyright'."

    >> You should know that the technicians will not give up their
    >> technical terms, nor will they bother to use a different set of
    >> terms merely because the general public might be listening in.
    >> Thus, on your strategy, the misunderstanding persists
    >> indefinitely.

    Ben> Actually I've found that technical people often will use a
    Ben> different set of terms when they wish to communicate with the
    Ben> general public. Often they won't as well - but it is only the
    Ben> former group that succeeds in communicating.

What did I say that is different?

In fact, the former group *also* suffers from substantial
*miscommunication*, as I pointed out: the members of the general
public *think* they understand, but then get confused when the
discussion starts to get technical.

Such communication is inherently hard.  You would prefer to get heads
nodding, I guess.  I prefer to get them thinking, even if at the end
of the day we agree to disagree.

    Ben> Hacker is a specific term used within a technical community
    Ben> with a precise meaning.  I agree that it is not describing
    Ben> something very technical, but its usage pattern exactly
    Ben> matches what you expect for technical terms.

I agree it's nowhere near as abused as the word "fuck", but really,
now.  There are a number of meanings specific to this technical
community, and they must be disentangled by contextual analysis.

A real technical term *establishes* its own context, merely by being

    Ben> As an economist, you see things through economic glasses. :-P

Sure thing!  Just like paranoids, economists are often correct.

    Ben> To the average Jane it is a non-issue.  Until the RIAA sues
    Ben> her...

That is *still* an economic issue, a matter of personal costs and
benefits.  Unless you're claiming that Average Jane deliberately
provoked the RIAA so that on Tuesdays and Saturdays she can say to me,
"Stephen John, what are *you* doing out *there*?"  But you don't
believe that, do you?

    >> And "stealing" intellectual property is like "stealing" a kiss,
    >> not like stealing a horse.  Everybody I've talked to about it
    >> understands that.

    Ben> The RIAA and press releases from various politicians would
    Ben> have you believe that it is more like stealing a horse than
    Ben> stealing a kiss. They go further and tell you how much money
    Ben> they think has been stolen from them.  (Their estimates are
    Ben> massively overstated, but that's to be expected.)

What does bad propaganda have to do with anything, except our
commitment to fight it?

Do you think you can fight it by telling Jane "that isn't property,
so it's not 'stealing'," when she knows very well that she had lusted
in her heart, and she and Dick, and even Spot, know very well that it
*was* stealing?  Even if they're wrong about all that?

You know how successful the "free as in free speech" campaign has
been.  Now there's *good* propaganda.  Do you think Jane will forget
what the real issues are once it's been explained that copyright
infringement is "stealing as in stealing a kiss"?  Can't you just see
50 hecklers blowing kisses at Bill Gates as he speaks to the SPA?
etc?  Worth a try, hm?

    Ben> entire concept of "fair use" takes a lot of getting used to.

    >> Really?

    Ben> You sometimes have the right to make copies, despite there
    Ben> being a copyright.  But the law doesn't spell out exactly
    Ben> when.  Doesn't this seem odd to you?  Certainly I was taken
    Ben> aback when I first encountered this idea.

To be honest, that's never bothered me.  Exceptions governed by the
"rule of reason" was something I was taught early.  OK, I'm not going
to concede but I won't comment further until I've gathered a lot of
data about other people.

    Ben> My point is that there is an endless supply of uneducated
    Ben> educable people.  You're not going to make a dent in that
    Ben> population, though you're welcome to try.

There are so many responses I'd like to make, but here's the most
relevant one.  Let me quote Prof. Bernardo de la Paz: "Revolution is
not an end I expect to achieve; it is an art I pursue."

Don't forget: he won.

Graduate School of Systems and Information Engineering   University of Tsukuba        Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
        Economics of Information Communication and Computation Systems
          Experimental Economics, Microeconomic Theory, Game Theory