What is this handbasket we’re in, and where is it going?

This is intellectual property, and don’t you forget it

Google, owners of the popular video sharing site YouTube, have been ordered by the New York courts to turn over sensitive data to Viacom, who is suing the Internet giant for “copyright-infringement .” Intellectual property has been a sticky subject for a long time, and the explosion of the Internet as the main arena for communication and culture sharing has only further muddied the waters. The fact that courts are ordering Internet companies with huge caches of private user information to turn over said private information is startling in and of itself, but the more important question, at least for the long term, concerns the role intellectual property plays in the new Internet-driven forum.

Personally, I think companies complaining about copyright infringement should be glad to be getting the free publicity. But then again, I personally don’t make any kind of profit from any of my creative works, published or not – that’s the purpose of any professional works I may have in the pipeline. But, the term “starving artist” doesn’t carry much relevance in this day and age.

I can recognize the need for short term copyrights and patents, if only to encourage invention and artistic expression and to support those who wish to make these pursuits their life. However, a lot of the laws geared to protect intellectual property are entirely too obtrusive and stick for way too long. Currently, any works which are both published and registered are under copyright protection for a full 70 years following the original authors death. It’s a good thing Methuselah wasn’t an author.

In the end, copyright law very rarely serves the public good. Copyright does not result in a net benefit for society, which is strange considering the utilitarian nature of American society and government. Far from encouraging creativity in artistic pursuits, copyrights actually serve to stifle the creative market while simultaneously enriching few.

I’m not saying that people should go around ripping off people of their ideas willy-nilly. Giving credit where credit is due is an important piece of any meaningful communication. However, ideas, which are at the heart of this whole debate, are inherently free. They should be given, and received, freely. An idea can be passed on without loss to the individual with which the idea originates, while acting to enrich the life of the recipient. If I give someone 10 pounds of fish, I lose that same 10 pounds of fish and can expect some sort of renumeration. How can I expect payment, then, for a thought, which, though I have shared, I still am able to claim possession of?

Thomas Jefferson (one of the most important intellectuals who contributed to the founding the United States) had similar thoughts on the nature of intellectual property, so I’m in pretty good company. Of course, I’m only 23 years old. I certainly do not count myself among the wise.

I don’t have the experience to be authoritative on any philosophical discussion. But I like to pretend that my opinions and thoughts matter anyway, and thoroughly enjoy stating them as irrevocable facts. You know, the young think they know everything, and all that.


July 6, 2008 - Posted by | All the news that's fit to hear, Diatribe

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