Subject: Re: The term "intellectual property" considered useful
From: "Ben Tilly" <>
Date: Fri, 5 May 2006 21:30:05 -0700

 Fri, 5 May 2006 21:30:05 -0700
On 5/5/06, Stephen J. Turnbull <> wrote:
> >>>>> "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.

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

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

> 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.

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

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

I must admit to having long-ago burned out on the idea of trying to
convince people that they needed to learn an entire vocabulary from me
before they're allowed to speak to me.

>     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.

Hacker is a specific term used within a technical community with a
precise meaning.  I agree that it is not describing something very
technical, but its usage pattern exactly matches what you expect for
technical terms.  And it is a classic example of a case where a people
have had no success in getting the general public to even notice that
they're annoyed.

>     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!"

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

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

>     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
> that.

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

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

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

(Yes, I know that
spells out some cases where you clearly have the right, but it does
not pretend to be an exhaustive description.  And fair use evolved in
common law before that statute.)

>     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.

Suffice it to say that my experience sharply differs from yours. 
However I'd say that people who CARE about a "creator's right" are
generally related to creators or are wannabes.

>     >> 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.

My point is that there is an endless supply of uneducated educable
people.  You're not going to make a dent in that population, though
you're welcome to try.  You're also welcome to endlessly roll a rock
up a hill.

> Footnotes:
> [1]  The Japanese version of Clippy.  Five times as cute, twice as
> annoying.

Extra cuteness I can believe - after all Japan invented anime - but
twice as annoying is hard to accept.