Subject: Re: The term "intellectual property" considered useful
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Fri, 05 May 2006 18:45:58 +0900

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

    Ben> On 5/4/06, Stephen J. Turnbull <>
    Ben> wrote:

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

    Ben> When nontechnical people hear a technical term, they often
    Ben> misunderstand.  Even if the term technically fits, if it
    Ben> causes general misunderstanding (which this does) then a
    Ben> different term would be better.

    >> Crystalline pure arrogance.  I expect better of you, Ben.

    Ben> How so is it arrogant?

Because you are caving in to the temptation to leave the technical
understanding in the hands of the technicians, only because education
requires effort.

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.

Of course, given your "Sisyphus" remark, maybe you're just getting

    Ben> And I've found that it is generally a losing battle to educate
    Ben> people one by one about what the right term should be.  For
    Ben> instance no matter how many people you tell about the whole
    Ben> hacker/cracker distinction, I guarantee that the general
    Ben> public will continue to use "hacker" differently than good
    Ben> programmers do.

Sure.  Case (3).  But "hacker" is not a technical term.

    Ben> And even if you've explained what your term means to you, I've
    Ben> noticed that people's basic emotional reaction remains based
    Ben> on the common use.

And on the fact that hackers are a single-issue constituency generally
out of touch with the way the general population feels about these
issues.  To the average Jane, it's an economic issue.  "How much do I
have to pay?"  "Can I at least make backups?"  "Freedom?  Freedom to
do what?  Somebody's got to do the work, of course I'll pay my fair
share."  "Oh, that kind of freedom.  Sure, if I get it for free.
What, no talking dolphin[1] on the wordprocessor?  Bring the EULAs!"

    Ben> People easily understand the fact that intellectual property
    Ben> is intangible, but they retain expectations based on the
    Ben> common word. For instance they think it reasonable for
    Ben> intellectual property should last forever by default, they
    Ben> think of violating intellectual property as stealing, and the

Both plausible, as far as I can see.  You need to be a member of the
single-issue constituency to have a problem *in principle* with
those.  I've never met anybody who didn't think it was reasonable for
IP to be term-limited as well as reasonable for it to be permanent.
And "stealing" intellectual property is like "stealing" a kiss, not
like stealing a horse.  Everybody I've talked to about it understands

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


    Ben> Note that the opinion didn't change, merely the words used to
    Ben> express it.

    Ben> Furthermore I suspect that if you dug down, you'd
    Ben> find that a basic source of the opinion was the analogy to
    Ben> expectations based on more tangible forms of property.

In my experience, people who think that there's a "creator's right"
are generally related to creators or are wannabes.  They think there's
something special about creators.  (Creative people themselves often
seem to be of two minds about it; they know they don't know what they
did, but they also know they did it.)  It has nothing to do with
property in land, which everybody knows was originally homesteaded at
best, and rather often stolen from somebody else, not created.

    >> I don't make further efforts to convince them, I simply take
    >> away their audience by educating the educable.

    Ben> It sounds like Sisyphus is your hero.

No.  Essentially zero recidivism, because I don't ask people to lie
about what they believe, only to agree to a common meaning for the
words we use.  The fraction that converts to precision is quite
satisfying, and they outvote the fugitives by about 2 to 1 in
Presidential elections.

[1]  The Japanese version of Clippy.  Five times as cute, twice as

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