An Intellectual Poverty Law

Upon my research on 18th and early 19th century England, I stumbled upon a process that was taking place from the 16th to the 19th century in rural England.

It’s enclosure.

Basically, the medieval system is, that a village has, in addition to the fields of the individual farmers, a large commons, where all the inhabitants of that village can gather wood, graze livestock and so on.

This commons was now more and more split up amongst the villagers, with wealthier people buying land of the less wealthy ones, making subsistence-farming more and more impossible, and finally leading to widespread poverty in the 19th century.

And this is exactly the same process that’s happening since about 250 years with our intellectual commons.

Copyright, which was initially just that, a “right to make copies” and sell them, and which lasted 14 years from the publication of a work, became extended to “70 years after the death of the author” and incorporated more and more provisions for the copyright-holder.

Other laws wrapped under “intellectual property” are also working in the same spirit, none more so than patents, which provides not a monopoly on “being allowed to do something” (as copyright does) but a right of “prohibiting others to do something”. Which is of course much more far-reaching.

Trademarks also play a part in this, disallowing references to trademarks not only on ground of competition (as initially meant), but with any spurious explanation the trademark-holder can come up with to quash criticism, satire, art, history and everything else related to that trademark.

The theory, and thus the title, is of course, that these intellectual property laws are the equivalent of enclosures, and will lead to very much the same outcome in another dimension: poverty of intellectual capital and depredation of culture.

And with rows and hedges (read “technical measures”) to keep the now-inclosed commons in private hands, this will only get worse as the century wears on.

An Intellectual Poverty Law

Upon my research on 18th and early 19th century England, I stumbled upon a process that was taking place from the 16th to the 19th century in rural England.

It’s enclosure.

Basically, the medieval system is, that a village has, in addition to the fields of the individual farmers, a large commons, where all the inhabitants of that village can gather wood, graze livestock and so on.

This commons was now more and more split up amongst the villagers, with wealthier people buying land of the less wealthy ones, making subsistence-farming more and more impossible, and finally leading to widespread poverty in the 19th century.

And this is exactly the same process that’s happening since about 250 years with our intellectual commons.

Copyright, which was initially just that, a “right to make copies” and sell them, and which lasted 14 years from the publication of a work, became extended to “70 years after the death of the author” and incorporated more and more provisions for the copyright-holder.

Other laws wrapped under “intellectual property” are also working in the same spirit, none more so than patents, which provides not a monopoly on “being allowed to do something” (as copyright does) but a right of “prohibiting others to do something”. Which is of course much more far-reaching.

Trademarks also play a part in this, disallowing references to trademarks not only on ground of competition (as initially meant), but with any spurious explanation the trademark-holder can come up with to quash criticism, satire, art, history and everything else related to that trademark.

The theory, and thus the title, is of course, that these intellectual property laws are the equivalent of enclosures, and will lead to very much the same outcome in another dimension: poverty of intellectual capital and depredation of culture.

And with rows and hedges (read “technical measures”) to keep the now-inclosed commons in private hands, this will only get worse as the century wears on.

Lies, Damned Lies and Propaganda

Propaganda trumps scientific evidence everytime.

Face it, there is nothing like propaganda, backed by some hearsay evidence and a few vivid examples. And science cannot offer anything to counter that.

It used to be “Statistics” in that title-phrase, but that’s not true anymore, if it ever was. You don’t need statistics to make people believe global warming isn’t happening. You don’t need statistics to convince a nation that some other nation has “Weapons of Mass Destruction”. You don’t need statistics to convince an entire world that monopolies are good for it. Nobody except scientists bother with statistics if they want to convince you of something.

Statistics aren’t appealing to your gut-feeling, examples are. No matter how scarce and how much the result of some other unknown influence they are, examples is what relates to the public, and also what causes fear and anxiety. It doesn’t matter if a few hundred-thousand people get killed in some faraway land. But if something happens to a person you know, no matter how faintly you know the person, or maybe you only read of it, this is obviously evidence for whatever malfaisance or problem-du-jour exists, and is a big problem. A freak accident gets a “security problem” with something, a robbery a “crime problem”, somebody killing himself a “suicide wave” and so on. It does not matter if said accident is the only in the world that ever happened with that specific device, your crime-rate is the lowest on the planet, and the suicide-rate the second lowest. You may now be convinced that this specific thing is a huge problem which must be addressed immediately. Of course, you probably don’t get the idea that there might be a problem yourself, so that’s why we’ve got propaganda.

Or to put the other way: People doing propaganda will use exactly that mechanism, that we tend to believe in examples and not in statistics, to convince you their lies are the truth.

Alright, some of the examples initially used are pretty far off, you you might think that you’re not afflicted with believing such lies. I’ll give you some examples (ha! See?) of things you might believe in, that have no scientific evidence whatsoever:

  • In the middle ages, people thought the world was flat — That’s actually a fairy tale from the 1830ies. Since at least Aristotle nobody believed in a flat earth. Certainly not people in the middle ages who revered Aristotle as the greatest philosopher of all.
  • Copyright is necessary for the compensation of the efforts of creators of works and to ensure that they will produce more. — You should have told that Shakespeare and Beethoven
  • Patents are necessary for innovation — There is absolutely no scientific study which can prove that patents are in any way beneficial to innovation. There are however studies proving monopolies are always inhibiting innovation.
  • Patents are at least necessary recouping costs of research and development — Well, Ciba, Sandoz, Novartis and so on didn’t need them until 1954. And they where already huge multinationals then.
  • Harsh weapon laws reduce crime — No, they don’t. There’s no correlation between the availability of weapons and violence. In some places there is, but this is most probably a coincidence, resulting from some other reason.
  • Knife-bans will reduce violent crime — Scissors get lumped into the same category as knifes in criminal statistics. Now guess what’s actually used most often?
  • Data retention helps to reduce crime — No, it actually produces crime. Not the same ones it tries to address, but things like fraud, extortion, theft of services, privacy breaches, stalking etc.

And this goes on and on. For all of above mentioned things we hold for self-evident, there is either no scientific data backing them up, or even data refuting them. But most of those are actually the result of propaganda, the result of someone trying to get its agenda accepted. Even the flat earth is the result of (in that case anti-clerical) propaganda.

Of course, asking “cui bono” (who benefits) will often yield interesting questions about such a belief in the first place, but often might be misleading as well. Usually it boils down to “who benefits more”. More often, trying to get hard scientific data — statistics or better the raw data of the statistics — supporting your belief will immediately tell you if what you think is true really is. Because typically, you won’t find any.

The search for a flat earth in medieval sources turns up nothing — but pictures of round earths. My request for data and methodology regarding so-called “software-piracy” (a propagandist term, of course, we’re actually talking of “copyright infringement”) from the Business Software Alliance turned up only some vague statements about “estimations regarding past sales and sold hardware”, but not a shred of hard data. My quest for evidence of innovation-fostering of the patent-system turned up loads of citations of people iterating a mantra, and one paper; the paper coming to the conclusion that “there is no evidence”.

My impression is, that scientists, and scientific methods, and data, gets completely overwhelmed by propaganda. A spectacle orchestrated by propagandists to further their agenda, and also by unwittingly victims of that propaganda. It’s actually hard to believe that somebody does not have an agenda, but somehow, some scientists gave me the impression that they don’t really have an agenda — and furthermore, that they do not understand why somebody could consider the results of their work not desirable. And it’s clear, if you don’t understand why you’ve got enemies, and what they are using, you’re going to loose.

I don’t have any solution to this, apart from educations, but it’s terribly hard to get people to get themselves informed when everyone is surrounded by propaganda and propaganda-induced misconceptions daily spewed by mass-media and repeated by websites every day. And, most of the above propaganda is actively backed by powerful interests in economy and politics.

I didn’t include any links to research in this post, but you’re welcome to do your research on these topics yourself. Otherwise, you’ll also find some posts on this blog which sum up some of the topics mentioned and link to further articles and research.

The “Moby Dick Support Device”

BitOBear wrote on Groklaw

As a side thought, a device doesn’t lose its nature when applied to a particular purpose. If I buy a bookshelf and put nothing on it, or only put a single copy of Moby Dick, or I burden it down exclusively with copies of Moby Dick, it doesn’t become a “moby dick support device”, it remains a bookshelf.

I have heard tell that the argument is that when I run a spreadsheet program on a computer it becomes a spreadsheeting machine, so the patent people argue that it _becomes_ a “particular machine”.

This “moby dick support device”-reasoning is exactly what European Patent Office is doing in regards of the European Patent Convention (EPC) Article 52 which excludes computer programs “as such” from patentability.

Since it’s not possible to patent software “as such”, they let their clients redefine general purpose computers as “special devices running said patented software” and accept that.

Indeed, there is a case in the US In re Alappat, in which exactly this ridiculous proposition was accepted by the court. The same bogus is repeated In re Prater: “But once a program has been introduced, the general-purpose digital computer becomes a special-purpose digital computer [...] which, along with the process by which it operates, may be patented subject

To go a step further, not only does a general-purpose computer not become “a special purpose computer”, but it also does nothing but mathematics. Which are, again according to patent law (and this time even the US one which allows software patents), not patentable. See 1+1 (pat. pending) which explains not only why computer programs are nothing but math, but also how to possibly prove this to a court.

Ways out of Darkness – Abolishing Patents

I not only wrote a lot on copyrights, but also on patents:

In contrast to copyrights, in which interests of all involved parties have to be carefully balanced, with patents the case is very clear cut: Nearly everyone, including companies holding a lot of patents, are victims of the system. The only people profiting are lawyers and patent-trolls. The only exception among the patent-holders are some of the pharmacy- and biochemistry companies: They’re perpetrators, and the victims are everyone else.

the only logical course of action

You can’t sustain a system which funnels 20% of all production costs into the legal system.

The state and its bodies are prohibited from 
enacting laws allowing temporary or perpetual
monopolies on ideas, inventions and innovations. 

Pharmacy

Pharmacy is a somewhat special case, since there the costs associated from patent licenses are actually higher than the legal costs. Also, development costs are very high, mostly due to required tests mandated by the gouvernments. On the other hand, pharmacy companies are among the worst offenders of abusing their monopolies; thus a “special patent law” only for pharmacy and biochemistry would not be warranted.

However, since patents somehow alleviate for costs mandated by gouvernment, it seems prudent that the costs for tests are in turn taken over or subsidied by gouvernment. At least in the initial phase.

A (Patent-)Law to promote the welfare of Lawyers

I already wrote about it, on how Patents kill Innovation. If you’re looking for more background on some of the assertions in this text, they’re explained there.

Right now the german Bundesgerichtshof decided that it would be a good idea to allow software Patents, even if the European Patent Treaty says in Article 52 “The following in particular shall not be regarded as inventions … mathematical methods … programs for computers”. How did the BGH get the idea to rule on such a case in the first place, and not dismiss the whole affair as illegal and contempt of justice?

Either this is, according to Henlons Razor, an act of incredible stupidity, or there were some serious interests in the background lobbying. And in fact, those interests very much exist, and they’re very much part of the judical system itself.

As it happens, apart from Pharmacy, nobody will make money from Patents he applies for. Yes, this sounds like a very bold statement, but keep in mind that this applies to all of the patents of a field taken together; there might be financially successful patents among them, but this is eaten up by all the other patents which just cost money. No where does this money go to? Legal costs of course. So in all fields of enterprise except pharmacy, patents only fill the coffers of Lawyers, Attorneys, Judges and the Patent Office. It has been estimated that those costs make up to 20% of the final product price, making the patent system in the end just a tax-system which funels a tax of 20% to the legal system.

Obviously, those on the receiving end have a strong inventive to keep it this way, and won’t allow anyone to interfere with their rent. And most probably this is what happend with the BGH. As people in the legal system they are bound to know a lot of people also in the legal system, and those Lawyers and Attorneys will have biased views which they probably have communicated to the BGH. By now, the BGH is probably firmly convinced that patents are necessary for innovations to happen (or any suchlike hogwash).

Are you curious about that “Pharmacy exemption”? Well, the patent system works there (with its main effect) as intended, with some severe side effects. Patents are granted, the patents licensed to third parties, and the license-fees not only cover the legal costs but are high enough to make a decent profit. Not anticipated was that the big players in that field lobbied succesively “patents on prducts” and “patents on genome-sequences” into the law, plus that they wreck havoc on smaller players and on the general public, most noteably on the public in third world countries.

So even if patents on pharmacy work as expected when viewed from within the system, the idea of patents as such is inherently flawed in regard of innovation, development, economy and ecology. And if you’re a proponent of free markets, patents as “government granted monopolies” are an abomination anyway. Patents are an inherently mercantilistic idea (especially due to the fact that a patent does not allow you to produce any product, but allows you to forbid your competion to produce it), along the lines of such illuminaires as tariffs, subsidies and protective duties.