Subject: Re: Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Encyclopedia
From: Erik Naggum <>
Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2001 04:26:20 GMT
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp
Message-ID: <>

* Sam Steingold <>
| It is not at all clear that it is possible to "own an idea".

  Intellectual property does not refer to ideas, only their _expression_.
  Nobody has _ever_ in the history of intellectual property made any claim
  to own an _idea_.  For instance, patents, which prevent an independent
  invention from being exploited commercially, does _not_ prevent anyone
  from writing books on the ideas underlying the invention, nor from using
  it to create new inventions.  Quite the contrary, that is the purpose of
  patents -- to make them open and known -- that is what "patent" means.
  The purpose of granting commercial rights to copyright holders (apart
  from any moral rights) is also to ensure that people are encouraged to
  publish their ideas.  Society benefits greatly from _not_ letting people
  "own" ideas, and obviously so.  I find it very strange that those who
  talk about the ill effects of intellectual property do not care enough to
  know that it expressly does not deal with "owning ideas".  As far as the
  intellectual property laws are concerned, owning an idea is not possible.

| Nevertheless, the bottom line is that IP is _not_ the same kind of
| property as a car or a computer, at least not legally.

  I hope two books I have read recently can help those who have an urge to
  be opinionated on the issue of intellectual property get a better grip on
  what they are talking about:

        Paul Goldstein
        International Copyright : Principles, Law, and Practice

        David R. Koepsell
        The Ontology of Cyberspace : Philosophy, Law, and the
        Future of Intellectual Property

  Incidentally, intellectual property is considered hard to understand.  I
  do not understand why, but then I have always been looking at it from the
  point of view of the creator and the obvious right he has to control the
  distribution of his work -- ultimately by simply withholding it -- not
  the consumer who generally has nothing to offer the creator but money,
  and the requirements that a decent society can put on the consumer such
  that those who can create something, _anything_ of value, are encouraged
  to do so, precisely for the benefit of those consumers, but also such
  that other creators can build on what has gone before them instead of
  having to develop everything from first principles themselves.  If the
  consumers gets "rights" to the works of the creators, the only effect is
  to seriously limit the incentives of creators to do significant work, and
  the only new creations will be trivial consumer modifications that are
  worth what the consumers can get in return for their effort.  Most of
  those who are both creator and consumer will not figure this out until
  they can no longer get paid for their creative work and can no longer buy
  (copies of) any new creative works that would have cost so much to create
  that millions of consumers must pay for it, and the former consequence
  will happen to small-time creators a long before the latter affects the
  big-time entertainment industry, but it will dry out from the bottom up:
  It is already damn hard to _start_ making money in entertainment and it
  will not get easier when nothing but the largest outfits make money, and
  that process of favoring big business will come about because people do
  not understand how today's intellectual property laws protect the small
  creators against the big ones.  I believe the only reason consumers want
  control over the published works of creators is simple greed, but greed
  pays off only in the short run, killing off the source of the value that
  greedy people only _want_.

  Norway is now run by a priest from the fundamentalist Christian People's
  Party, the fifth largest party representing one eighth of the electorate.
  Carrying a Swiss Army pocket knife in Oslo, Norway, is a criminal offense.