Subject: Re: The term "intellectual property" considered useful
From: Thomas Lord <>
Date: Wed, 24 May 2006 17:08:00 -0700

Taran, I *think* I can see why my words confused you.  Perhaps
the simplest thing is just to restate the confusing point in a
different way:

Let's talk about today's digital networks.  I mean something
very broad by "digital network".  I don't mean just the guts of
the Internet but also all the endpoints (e.g, your computer, my
computer).  I don't mean just the Internet and its endpoints but
other (to the diminishing degree they are separate) digital
networks and their endpoints.

And let's compare those networks to the historical press, by
which I mean traditional mechanical presses, booksellers, LP
(vinyl record) factories and the sellers of those, etc.

It's just a fact that one thing the digital networks are very
good at is making and distributing copies of digital works.  It
used to be that the press was the most efficient way to
mass-produce and distribute copies of a digital work but now the
net is trivially capable of being much better not only at
producing copies, but at getting them to where they are wanted.

Are you with me so far?  I'll assume so.  That's just a
high-level technological assesment.

The press has relevant properties that today's digital networks
barely share, if at all:

1) With the traditional press, all copies are produced in just a
   few locations.  In digital networks, copies are produced
   wherever they are demanded.

   An implication is that if the King, confronting the press,
   wants to prevent copies of a certain heretical book from
   being produced and circulated, He need only exercise His
   powers to interfere with a small number of presses that would
   produce it.

   On the other hand, if the King is confronted with a digital
   network, He has a considerably harder problem to solve.  More
   on this later.

2) With the traditional press, all copying activity is naturally
   partitioned neatly into atomic units of copying.   Books are
   printed, sewn, and traded as units.  LPs are pressed,
   sleeved, and traded as units.   With digital networks,
   content is vastly more fluid and as it is copied, it
   is constantly repartitioned and recombined into different
   units of copying -- my home page on Yahoo looks different
   from yours.

   An implication is that a bookseller's guild, confronting the
   press, can design systems of inventory and simple pricing by
   counting the atomic units of copying.   The guild,
   confronting a digital network, has a considerably harder
   problem to solve.  More on this later.

Property (1) means that the press is easily regulated with
respect to copying.   Copying can be limited, expanded, made an
exclusive right, and so forth.

Property (2) means that the press creates, out of its very
structure, a natural commodity.   One copy of "Pilgrim's
Progress" is as good as another.  I'll trade my mint condition
pressing of "Sgt. Pepper" for yours.

A commodity whose production is naturally regulated easily
becomes an object of commerce.  And so we have inherited a vast
industry around commerce in those commodities which are the
product of the press: the printed word, the pressed recording,
etc.  We inherit considerable social and economic investment
in this industry.

Still with me?

And now it is time to get to the things I labeled "More on this
later": The King's difficulty in regulating a digital network;
the guild's difficulty in defining a commodity product within a
digital network.

Let's take regulation.   It is true that a digital network
is less centralized.  His Majesty the King cannot simply
shut down one or two presses to prevent the copying of a
heretical work.   His Majesty *can*, however, operate at
one degree of remove.  As we can observe from DRM work,
for example, He can require that every component of the
digital network include (mis)features which preserve His
regulatory powers.   Every DVD player must contain features
which limit copying.  Nobody but the government may route
IP traffic to an internet cafe in China.  His Majesty is
able to do these things because, even though the network
itself contains no natural choke-points for regulation,
the equipment manufactured and deployed to create the
regulation contains these indirect choke-points.

Why would His Majesty want to bother creating such
inefficiencies in the Market?  As with China wrt its citizens,
and as with mom-and-dad in the U.S. suburbs wrt their children,
one reason is that His Majesty is afraid of heresy.  He has a
censorial interest in this regulation.  In this, however, he
finds a close interest in the Market, in the persons of the

Why would the guilds want to create those very same
inefficiencies in the market?  Because they are in the business
of dealing in a commodity that, without these inefficiencies,
will cease to exist (i.e., be transformed beyond all recognition
-- so much so that existing business models around this
commodity are more or less shattered).

So long as the King and the guilds retain their conservative
interests in continuing a historic regulatory and commercial
practice, they are perfect allies in opposition to freedom.

If they have their way, digital networks will be stifled
by regulatory constraints on technology and true digital
networks will cease to exist.   In the place of digital
networks we will have a simulacrum -- a modern version of
the printing press that happens to be optimized by having
terminals in each of our homes and in every aspect of our

If His Majesty and the guilds do not have their way, we
will retain a true digital communications network.  It
will be left to entrepreneurs, such as FSBs, to support
this network through commerce.

Still with me?  Eh, well, I tried.

Anti-net-neutrality is currently promoted as some way to control
costs relative to utilization.  Since the network already has
bandwidth-tools built in, this makes little sense.  Should
Anti-net-neutrality make progress, just you wait and see: the
next step is DRM built into the net.

My words that confused you:

 >> Many current debates (esp. DRM, net-neutrality, fair-use)
 >> seem to me to be about this question: is the digital network
 >> simply the next generation press? or is it something else? Is
 >> the net just the ultimate factory for reproducing the
 >> commodity? Or is it the end of certain forms of commodity?

Do they make more sense now?


 > == Taran Rampersad wrote:
 >> == Thomas Lord wrote:

 >> Censorship was implemented in the form of licensing a
 >> particular guild of printers, who colluded, thereby
 >> immediately creating a cartel that was engaged in price
 >> fixing for the new commodity. Book selling became a very
 >> lucrative business.

 > "Freedom of the Press is limited to those who own one." -
 > A.J. Liebling.

 >> Many current debates (esp. DRM, net-neutrality, fair-use)
 >> seem to me to be about this question: is the digital network
 >> simply the next generation press? or is it something else? Is
 >> the net just the ultimate factory for reproducing the
 >> commodity? Or is it the end of certain forms of commodity?

 > Your use of words here confuses me (it has been a long
 > day)... do you mean to write 'printing press' or 'machine'
 > instead of 'factory'? You seem to have taken a leap in the
 > analogy, and my basis on further comment is on this perceived
 > leap. So if I screwed that up, disregard below.

 >> Those who see (or wish to force) the net to be the ultimate
 >> factory are naturally pro-DRM, anti-net-neutrality, and quite
 >> happy to throw elements of fair-use overboard to achieve
 >> those aims. They want (somewhat ludicrously) to seize that
 >> factory and partition its productive capacity among owners in
 >> such a way as to preserve some aspects of the limited
 >> monopoly.

 > Err. Right, this is where I disagree based on the above
 > perception. I don't believe the net to be the 'ultimate
 > factory', rather the 'next level' - which I'm guessing means
 > one and the same here. That said, I believe the net is the
 > next level, yet I am not 'pro-DRM' in the sense that you mean
 > (I believe that we have digital rights, though not as commonly
 > perceived) and I believe that our rights are partly managed
 > (different rights, not referring to patents, copyrights and
 > trademarks in the sense that most people use that phrase). I
 > am pro-network neutrality, I believe in fair use and I mourn
 > the Public Domain. So I don't know what you mean at all.

 > I think the difference we may be speaking of (if indeed I am
 > on the right track with what you meant to convey) is where the
 > value is perceived most - the value of the 'press', or ability
 > to replicate, or the value of the act of creation itself. The
 > latter is where I place the most value, yet they are linked.

 > If you create something of value off the network, will I know
 > about it? :-) So network neutrality is needed, and
 > copy-protection mechanisms (which a lot of people call 'DRM')
 > need to become the exception rather than the norm. Sure, if
 > you press me for a need for copy protection I may have to
 > stretch to imagine one - but I haven't mastered reading tea
 > leaves yet, so I leave the future uncertain to a degree -
 > Monty Python has taught me that nobody expects the Spanish
 > Inquisition. :-)