The idea of ‘intellectual property’ is nonsensical and pernicious | Aeon

Source: The idea of ‘intellectual property’ is nonsensical and pernicious | Aeon Samir Chopra

‘Intellectual property’ is a culturally damaging and easily weaponised notion. Its use should be resisted.

The grand term ‘intellectual property’ covers a lot of ground: the software that runs our lives, the movies we watch, the songs we listen to. But also the credit-scoring algorithms that determine the contours of our futures, the chemical structure and manufacturing processes for life-saving pharmaceutical drugs, even the golden arches of McDonald’s and terms such as ‘Google’. All are supposedly ‘intellectual property’. … But what kind of property is this? And why do we refer to such a menagerie with one inclusive term?

There are four areas of US federal law linked under the rubric of ‘intellectual property’ that we ought to keep separate in our minds. … copyright, patent, trademark and trade secret law were motivated by widely differing considerations. Their intended purposes, the objects covered and the permissible constraints all vary.

A general term is useful only if it subsumes related concepts in such a way that semantic value is added. If our comprehension is not increased by our chosen generalised term, then we shouldn’t use it. A common claim such as ‘they stole my intellectual property’ is singularly uninformative, since the general term ‘intellectual property’ obscures more than it illuminates. If copyright infringement is alleged, we try to identify the copyrightable concrete expression, the nature of the infringement and so on. If patent infringement is alleged, we check another set of conditions (does the ‘new’ invention replicate the design of the older one?), and so on for trademarks (does the offending symbol substantially and misleadingly resemble the protected trademark?) and trade secrets (did the enterprise attempt to keep supposedly protected information secret?). The use of the general term ‘intellectual property’ tells us precisely nothing. Furthermore, the extreme generality encouraged by ‘intellectual property’ obscures the specific areas of contention created by the varying legal regimes.

Why then does ‘intellectual property’ remain in use? Because it has polemical and rhetorical value. Its deployment, especially by a putative owner, is a powerful inducement to change one’s position in a policy argument. It is one thing to accuse someone of copyright infringement, and another to accuse of them of the theft of property. The former sounds like a legally resolvable technicality; the latter sounds like an unambiguously sinful act.

Property is a legally constructed, historically contingent, social fact. It is founded on economic and social imperatives to distribute and manage material resources – and, thus, wealth and power. … Law makes property part of our socially constructed reality, reconfigurable if social needs change.

Legal systems of property are pragmatic and outcome-oriented. They bring about desired social ends through a historically contingent, evolving blend of rights and duties for owners. There is no ‘natural’ or ‘objective’ basis for property; we deem something property because better social outcomes are realised by doing so.

legal protections offered to intellectual property assets are utilitarian grants – they are neither perpetual nor exclusive. (Tangible property is said to be perpetual because it is yours till you dispose of it.) Their terms are limited and amenable to nonexclusive use. Patent law offers exceptions for experimental use, and prior-use rights for business methods; copyright law for fair use; trademark law for nominative use; trade secrets for reverse engineering and independent discovery.

Intellectual property rights are granted reluctantly: here is your limited property right with exceptions for nonexclusiveness, so that your knowledge can flow back into the public domain, there to be built upon by others.

The resulting legal and economic landscape finds power concentrated in corporations with indefinitely extensible copyright terms, gigantic patent portfolios and politically influential trade secrets – each of which can trigger an endless series of litigious disputes in courts, and induce a chilling effect in the work of artists and innovators, and in the daily affairs of citizens.

This public domain is ours to draw upon for future use. The granting of temporary leases to various landlords to extract monopoly rent should be recognised for what it is: a limited privilege for our benefit. The use of ‘intellectual property’ is a rhetorical move by one partner in this conversation, the one owning the supposed ‘property right’. There is no need for us to play along, to confuse one kind of property with another or, for that matter, to even consider the latter kind of object any kind of property at all. Doing so will not dismantle the elaborate structures of rules we have built in order to incentivise artistic and scientific work. Rather, it will make it possible for that work to continue.

Six Books We Could and Should All Write – The Paris Review

Source: Six Books We Could and Should All Write – The Paris Review, by Anthony Madrid

1. The Diary of Samuel Pepys
2. Aubrey’s Brief Lives
3. Palgrave’s Golden Treasury
4. Flaubert’s Dictionary of Received Ideas
5. The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon
6. Li Zhi’s A Book to Burn

Six books anybody could write. You wouldn’t need any talent to produce these. All you’d have to do is stick with it.

Just to refresh: I’m saying one should compose (1) a book about oneself, (2) a book about others, (3) an anthology of favorites, (4) a book about words, and now I’m adding (5) a book of lists. [(6) a book of completely unacceptable views]

Still Friends? The trouble with old sitcoms

Source: Still Friends? The trouble with old sitcoms

As 90s sitcom Friends faces a backlash for alleged homophobia and sexism, we ask, was it ever thus?

“Homophobia, racism and misogyny are not and have never been acceptable [but] if it’s 20 years old, why on earth are you surprised if it’s different? If it makes you uncomfortable, why on earth are you watching it?”

— James Baldock

“And there’s a bit of arrogance – thinking we’re so perfect now. Not that I endorse the old attitudes, but I suspect if you fast forward 50 years into the future you could put people in front of the TV now and people will cringe as we do.”

— Mike Ward

Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria – The Atlantic

“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”

There’s actually a long tradition of technology companies disregarding intellectual-property rights as they invent new ways to distribute content.

An advocacy group called the Authors Guild, and several book authors, filed a class action lawsuit against Google on behalf of everyone with a U.S. copyright interest in a book. (A group of publishers filed their own lawsuit but joined the Authors Guild class action shortly thereafter.) … it was “perhaps the most adventuresome class action settlement ever attempted.”

The DOJ objections left the settlement in a double bind: Focus the deal on Google and you get accused of being anticompetitive. Try to open it up and you get accused of stretching the law governing class actions. The lawyers who had crafted the settlement tried to thread the needle.

Many of the objectors indeed thought that there would be some other way to get to the same outcome without any of the ickiness of a class action settlement. A refrain throughout the fairness hearing was that releasing the rights of out-of-print books for mass digitization was more properly “a matter for Congress.” … Of course, nearly a decade later, nothing of the sort has actually happened.

People have been trying to build a library like this for ages—to do so, they’ve said, would be to erect one of the great humanitarian artifacts of all time—and here we’ve done the work to make it real and we were about to give it to the world and now, instead, it’s 50 or 60 petabytes on disk, and the only people who can see it are half a dozen engineers on the project who happen to have access because they’re the ones responsible for locking it up.

Source: Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria – The Atlantic

The Regrettable Decline of Space Utopias | Culture & Politics | Current Affairs

Why is it only the libertarians who fantasize about space these days?

our species hasn’t been around terribly long, in the grand scheme of things, and if we’re honest with ourselves, most of us haven’t exactly been doing our utmost to better the world we live in.

my general feeling is that our fondness for dystopian narratives is a pretty nasty indulgence, especially for those of us who live mostly comfortable lives, far-removed from the visceral realities of human suffering. … Immersing ourselves in narratives where 99% of the characters are totally selfish also engrains a kind of fashionable faux-cynicism that feels worldly, but is in fact simply lazy. I say faux-cynicism because I don’t believe that most people who profess to be pessimists truly believe that humanity is doomed, at least not in their lifetimes, or in their particular geographic purviews … telling yourself that everything is awful, and nothing can be fixed, is a marvelously expedient way to absolve yourself of personal responsibility. There is, happily, nothing about an apocalyptic worldview that obligates you to give up any of the comforts and conveniences that have accrued to you as a consequence of global injustice; and you get to feel superior to all those tender fools who still believe that a kinder world is possible! It’s a very satisfying form of moral escapism.

We have come to view utopian narratives as inherently hokey, and preachy. But dystopias are, of course, their own form of preaching; they are preaching another hypothesis about humanity, which, due to moody lighting and oblique dialogue, has an entirely undeserved appearance of profundity, and the illusory farsightedness of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Make utopias popular again. Fictional narratives are a huge factor in shaping our expectations of what is possible.

Source: The Regrettable Decline of Space Utopias | Culture & Politics | Current Affairs by Brianna Rennix