To people everywhere, and those especially who ponder excellence:
Ideas can’t be stolen, they can only be made real.
Herein I seek to demonstrate the idea of “intellectual property” is childish, false, and wicked.
I may also delve a bit into some implications (such as that the ideas of Copyright, Patent, and other forms of mental slavery should be universally rejected on every level). But first, a little bit of my…
Personal History with Intellectual Property
When I was a child myself, I clung (as do so many children) to many absurd notions. (I also found some true ones, but the point is that a child’s intuition (even at the best?) needs be examined.) Among my disparate assumptions was this concept of intellectual property, or, as a child would have it, “I thought of it first”. I must say, even as a child, this idea, couched in these selfish terms, repulsed me. I believed that there existed some right of an ideas originator to the products of the ideas implementation, but yelling “I thought of it first!” at one-another was too trite even for me-from-the-past. What good methods and alternatives there were I did not know, but I assumed (with the ignorance and blindness of a child) that there was some civilized method of expressing this concept, and that, as an adult, I would enjoy the privilege and the fruits of my intellectual labor under the protection of the law from all who dared to “steal my ideas.”
As I grew, perhaps in my mid-teens (I have kept no journal of my ideas progression, as the results seemed more important than the process at the time) I began to grow in knowledge of the specificities of these social implementations, namely the Patent and the Copyright (with their many other names denoting subtle shades of seperation). I also began to produce such works which could fall under the protection of these systems. I began to put copyright marks on some of the images that I made. This practice spurred me to work through a few implications. None of these systems assured me good return for “good ideas” which I formed. Rather they all, uniformly, worked to actively deny all people use and profit from the things I thought up, in hopes that I would grant such rights when satisfied by compensation. This sat with me uneasily, and I resolved, as much as was within my power, to produce materials that everyone could use and spread free from restrictions. I still believed that IP was “a real thing”, but it now resided in the “kind of a jerk move” region of my conciousness. However, I still assumed that I would, one day, produce a grand idea (either of fiction or practical genius) so profound that I could justify procurement and defense of “my rights” to the idea and its outcomes. Thus, concurrent with my experiments with copyrights, I also left my works un-marked, or even occasionally labeled them with public domain declarations.
As adulthood flourished beside wisdom, so did discussion of these topics on the Internet. Even though I bore some interest in the outcome, I never sought out or quarreled in such hot debates, preferring then to meditate myself on pure ideas, and arrive at some conclusions all my own. Once I had a reasoned stance, I then assured myself, I would go out into the Internet and test it with the arguments of betters than myself. As I have arrived at such conclusions, I have likewise done so. The results are nearly what I could have guessed: I seem to have arrived (surprise surprise!) at similar conclusions to those of Richard Stallman, Lawrence Lessig, and the many other libertarian philosophers who likewise thought upon these topics. In summary:
“IP” is vicious moonshine.
(not to be confused with “viscous moonshine” which is an entirely separate (though similarly distressing) concept)
This confirmation is a mixed reward, for though I joy in ruminations thus confirmed by those much better than myself, I also am a maker of such products which would normally fall under the “protection” of the IP laws. Thus, by making this my stance, I also alienate myself from the socially approved means of procuring compensation for my labors of the mind. I will explore these implications a little later on, but first I will endeavor to disclose the argument itself which so convinced me that this paupering course is the only one which may be walked with justice at my side. Although these statements have, no doubt, been made both first and better elsewhere, I ask you entertain my own ruminations on this topic of…
The Practical Meaning of Intellectual Property
Property, the concept, is both old and lovely. It implies that there are many objects, some of which are scarce and difficult to find and form, and that the makers or seekers of such objects have the right to hold or give them as they wish. It also broadly praises trade (the non-coerced exchange of property) and piles contempt on theft (coercion in the place of trade). Property is one of the most widespread and successful social concepts, and it pre-exists all known society and indeed all language.
Language, in itself, brings up an interesting point. While the property (the objects of themselves) may be both rare and valuable, everyone who comes in contact with propery (either of their own or that of others) makes a copy of it in their mind, as a part of the experience of observing it. Language allows the nearly effortless transmission of these ideas, which in turn allows others to produce or locate similarly lovely objects and thereby multiply good in the world. We see therefore that freedom of ideas increases wealth for all. Stealing property deprives the owner of the property, where “stealing” ideas deprives the originator of nothing tangible.
On its face, the meaning of Intellectual Property is that a person who composes a specific concept has the right to dictate who makes a copy of this idea, and especially what persons implement it into practice. But here we are presented with several problems. If, by our communicating an idea, we permit all others to make copies of it, it would seem to follow that the surest way to stop this replication is to never tell others about it (and forget it yourself as quickly as possible). This is counter-productive, as no one will pay for an idea they have never heard of, and once they have heard it, it is quite impossible to control their ability to disseminate the idea freely, short of using force upon their body. Ruling out (for reasons which (I hope) are obvious) democide, it appears that intellectual property is a self-defeating idea. Those who would enforce it would be better served by secrecy. And, indeed, one presented purpose for the patent laws was thus to aid the spread of such ideas which would normally be hidden far from view, and even lost as time went on. But because (in actual practice) most truly revolutionary concepts are not patented (or at least not successfully by common measure), we see that practice quite agrees with theory in this matter.
But there is a great deal of stock put in this idea, so it must not be this simple. And, indeed, it is more complicated than what I present above.
When a person experiences an object (either of practical use, or of artistic beauty) their internal copy of this object is not perfect. It is so far from perfect that if one were to attempt a re-creation from raw memory, the resulting product would (most likely) yield the barest of resemblance to the intended original. However, with time, effort, study, and skill, one might craft such a well formed copy that it would be difficult to distinguish from the original. We call this process of intentionally producing an object indistinguishable from a work deemed to be the Intellectual Property of others “forgery.” And thus we see the reason why the IP laws are so enforced despite their flaws, as they are necessary for existence of symbolic currencies (such as are in use by nearly all the globe as I am writing this).
Thus, it becomes clear that IP can not halt production of all copies of a concept, but only the copies of high quality such as could be judged as forgeries. In the past, such forgeries were highly time consuming to produce, and always somewhat flawed. However, with the advent of the many various and cheap technologies (computers and the Internet are chief among them), such copies of a works are trivial to make, disseminate, and transmit, to such degree that many works may be objectively indistinguishable from the intentional copies used for distribution. Thus we see that all digital transmission of works protected as Intellectual Property is, in principle, a forgery.
Along with such technologies there have arisen means to poison works so that they need an antidote to be employed for useful purpose, commonly termed DRM (Digital Rights Management), and just as commonly derided.
With such basics set in order please allow me to present a…
Logical Case for the Evil Nature of the Idea of Intellectual Property
As with every stance, this argument rests on several assumptions and definitions. Mine are as follows:
- Good is that which produces happiness in people, integrated over all people for all time. Bad is its opposite, likewise integrated.
- Ideas are good only as far as they produce good results when implemented. Likewise, ideas are bad if they produce bad results.
These two assumptions are, I think, quite reasonable and unoffensive to the vast majority of humanity. And from these it follows that the idea “intellectual property” is a bad one. If the connection is not evident to you, please…
Allow me to Demonstrate
The idea of IP has only power to prevent the spread and implementation of other ideas. Its purpose is to limit good ideas (since no one would deign to sell bad ideas) in order to extract a price from those who would, otherwise, freely implement such good ideas and thereby benefit from their results.
This directly results in less happiness for humanity, both in the present and the future, and therefore is bad (see assumption 1 above). Since the result of implementing IP is bad, the idea itself is also bad (see 2 above).
In addition, if the good ideas are constrained, people are then left to use the lesser ones. Effort that would normally result in good production is diverted into poorer channels, further robbing people of the benefit of turning good ideas into practice. Thus the limitation of the spread of good ideas and the action taken on them both detract from human happiness and are a clear and present evil in the world.
A Few Objections Addressed
One may argue that IP may be used to limit the spread of bad ideas, thus increasing the net happiness for all. However, if an idea is bad, it is best prevented by disseminating information about the evil results along with the idea itself. Such ideas (telling of results of other carefully implemented ideas) is broadly termed “science”, and is itself quite strangled by this IP concept. The “Web of Knowledge”, scientific journals, and the like all exist to keep the spread of scienctific knowledge to the bare minimum necessary. We should be freely distributing the results of scientific investigations, not squirreling them away. Thus, this purported advantage turns out to result in further condemnation of IP.
One may also argue that, though IP may limit the spread of good ideas, it does so to the advantage of those who create such good ideas. May I simply point out (though I hesitate to do so, as it seems to insult the intelligence of my readers) that such an argument equates to the “needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many” and thus if it is not repulsive to your conscience, I despair of attempting to convince you otherwise.
One may further try to justify this practice by proposing that IP encourages production of more good ideas, thus resulting in a net gain for everyone. This I can not directly contradict (and nor can you directly prove), but I hope it is as evident to you as to myself that, far from encouraging innovation, the practice of IP has had the opposite effect, resulting (wherever it is employed) in the stagnation of creativity, the fallow dis-use of otherwise profitable concepts, and the expense of much effort to the purpose of actively thwarting implementation and dissemination of good ideas, all for the profit of a very few at the cost of detriment to all.
A Feasible Alternative to Intellectual Property
Thus, it seems to be that Intellectual Property is conceived by childishness, perpetrated by dis-information, lies, and greed, and useful only for the wicked advantage of the few over the many.
But, as much as I would love to exult in this result, it is (as I have hinted formerly) a rather Pyrrhic victory. For, though I delight in the simplicity and power of the case I have presented, it also means that I can never look to society and demand compensation for my intellectual labors without violating my own stated principles. This is especially problematic for me, as a creator, since I work in a broad range of mediums, many of them digital. It seems to put to rest the notion that I could ever find real employment as a creative individual, or indeed accept employment at a company which depends on the IP laws for their existence.
However, this conundrum is not without a minuscule ray of hope. Although I can not demand compensation, or even ask that you cease to distribute “my” ideas, there does appear an alternative. If Intellectual Property (which I reject) is a doctrine of coercion, then I…
Return to Trade
Though ideas should not be restricted after their formulation (because such restriction is (as outlined above) either an act of malice, or admission of deceit) their creators may certainly be paid for the labor of creating them. Whether this price is paid beforehand, or simply agreed to, it is both civil and free from undue restraint by the law. This is the time-worn idea of a commission, and will stand quite well without the artificial props of IP. Such compensation has the advantage (to the consumer) of being limited, as creative persons are paid a limited amount, not the unlimited rewards which current IP laws afford them. This comes with a corresponding advantage (this time to the producer) of requiring trust. The creator may fail to produce a work which merits payment, and the one who pays has no guarantee of satisfaction.
Still, this state of affairs is infinitely superior to granting arbitrary persons who “thought of it first” the right to extort all persons in the future for an indeterminate amount of both time and resources as backed by the violent force of the state.
Thus I ask that you, noble reader, and of your own free will, do consent to support my intellectual efforts, not because I force you, but because it constitutes a beneficial trade for both of us. Conversely, if you are unable or unwilling to contribute, please know that I bear you no ill will and urge you most strongly to enjoy what I produce freely without charge or guilt.
Of course, I would somewhat prefer to call on the State to strong-arm anyone who refused to render me what I think is fair and reasonable, which is why I now make…
A Plea that you Refute this Argument
I beg you, noble reader, if you have any way to convince me otherwise, that you bend your powers to do so. If you know of a way to safely arrive at confirmation of Intellectual Property, both as an idea and a practice, which affirms it as worthy for those of sound mind to practice upon their peers through the use of violent force, I beg of you to make the case… and strongly too! If you have heard even hint of such truths which will enable me to demand (along with rights to individual property) the rights to ideas which I “produce”, I plead with you to tell me of them without delay. As it is, I can not conceive in my current state of mind that such arguments would even exist, let alone be convincing. These conclusions appear to me so inescapable that I find no alternative, actual or hypothetical, which I may at once approve and keep my conscience clean.
As to matters larger than my own personal concerns, I suspect this problematic idea of Intellectual Property surpasses law, and to uproot it will require…
Broad Rejection of “Intellectual Property” by the Global Culture
As long as the idea of Intellectual Property is considered a valid viewpoint at large in the world, our laws and practices will continue to support monopoly and coercion. It is only by absolutely rejecting this concept as evil and childish that we will be able to move forward as a culture and a species, and adopt more fully notions of cooperation and learning which are now so crucial to our burgeoning enlightenment.
We need to stop thinking foolishly. Ideas are not property. Ideas can not be stolen. The hardest part of developing good ideas is not their conception, but their implementation and testing, and the social structures and physical artifacts used to carry out this task are the same as can be used to manufacture the results of good ideas, thus amply rewarding innovators.
There is no useful purpose for this nonsense notion of intellectual property, and we should abolish it as quickly and painlessly as possible.
It brings me no pleasure to point out that, as far as adopting these views on Intellectual Property, Brazil, Russia, India, and China are far ahead of the nations of North America and Europe. While I can by no means condone all of the policies of these nations, I must point out that, in this matter at least, “their” cultures appear to be superior to “ours”. I can only hope that with the rising relevance of these nations (and the cultural mindsets they represent) will come an equal irrelevance of IP laws and enforcement.
A Few Final Points
Thank you for considering my arguments. I hope that, whatever your stance and actions, I have stimulated your mind on this matter. And, as I said above, if you have any compelling refutations to these principles, I am eager to adopt them, as it will produce means for my own enrichment, and the enrichment of those of whom I approve.
P.S. If you’re interested in reading even more, here are a few thoughts on…
The Bible and IP
I have endeavored to perform an exhaustive topical study of the matter of IP in the Holy Scriptures elsewhere, so the following are based on my own brief recollections and wanderings through the scriptures, and are by no means exhaustive.
- Exodus 20:15 is often quoted as evidence for the validity of IP. However, this argument presumes both that ideas are property and can be stolen. I would say that neither are true, but either way this passage does not enlighten us on the definition of theft.
- To arguments in the vein of “this is how everyone does things these days” I respond with Exodus 23:2, a short ways after the famous Ten Commandments. IIRC there are many other passages conveying a similar sentiment, especially in writings of The Prophets.
- Even if intellectual property rights are sensible, the scriptures call for the exact opposite attitude with regard to themselves. For a major example, see Deuteronomy 6:6-9 where massive and widespread duplication is not only exonerated, but explicitly commanded. And, of course, the translation of the Bible into various languages (including the English version I used for this research) is an example of this mindset at work. The success of the Bible could be attributed (if Divine factors are set aside) in a large part to a lack of intellectual property restrictions placed on it by its Author (or, if you prefer, authors).
- In a not entirely coincidental parallel, Jesus speaks on similar matters in Matthew 5:19, essentially saying that the spread and practice of (very specific) good ideas is the work of those “great in the kingdom of heaven”.
- In contrast, Jesus indicates in Matthew 8:4 that the beneficiaries of a miracle should not tell anyone except a specific set of officials. While this seems a poor foundation for Intellectual Property as a whole, it is, I think, an interesting observation.
- The apostle Paul, who could have asked for compensation for conveying the special information he received from God, as well as the fruits of his years of meditation on the Scriptures (Galatians 1:18 and 2:1), decided not to do so (1 Corinthians 9, especially verse 18), instead supporting himself through manual labor and encouraging others to do the same (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). He also recommends that it doesn’t matter how ideas are spread, so long as the idea itself gets out (Philippians 1:18), which runs counter to the modern concept of approved distribution networks.
- For things that really need to keep a secret, the scriptures demonstrate the solution which I propose above at work in Revelation 10:4. Namely, if you don’t want people to know about it, don’t tell anyone; Certainly don’t write it down!
A Personal Pledge
This is all very big talk, and talk is (both by popular consent as well as the proof above) cheap. But as far as talk may take us, let us boldly go:
I, Paul Daniel Spooner, born 1984-01-11, hereby release the entirety of my intellectual property to the public domain. All ideas which I have produced in the past, or will produce in the future, I hereby make available for the free and unrestricted use by all people for all time. I explicitly forbid any entity, regardless of merit, standing, or interest, from restricting the free and unaltered dissemination of any information which falls under my authority. Anyone may use, employ, adapt, and/or transform any concept I have produced for any purpose without fear of retribution or litigation originating from myself.
I hope to be able to look back on this stage of my intellectual life with similar embarrassment to that which I direct at the follies of my childhood. However, until I am thus transported to a better place, here I stand. I can do no other.
The commission model advocated works on the small to individual scale. However, creative endeavors requiring large teams (like some games/movies) would be unachievable due to cost. Very few people could and even less would commission the Titanic or the Marvel movies without being able to monetize the end product.
There are not many Patrons of the Arts in modern society. In Part because one can find or acquire something that suits them without requiring direct interaction with the artist. Close/Good Enough is basically the name of the game for individuals, and companies that need such work turn to companies selling/managing the labor (or they just slap-dash it if they think they can get away with it).
In the scientific world, research teams are commissioned either by corporations seeking to monetize the end product (pharmaceutical companies for example) or scientists that get a grant from the government. The latter is closer to science for science’s sake than just about anything else our society does. The only thing closer is what I like to call pet peeve research, where someone rich has an issue with reality and commissions a scientist to figure it out.
That said, if we can make it to a post scarcity society, I agree that property, and especially IP will be unnecessary concepts.
Thanks for taking the time to comment! However, I fear you are quite confused.
If you look, you will discover that very significant works have been commissioned in both the past and present. You bring up “games”, but there are several major games commissioned on Kickstarter already. You speak of science, but ignore your facts.
The Titanic is physical property, and thus not subject to the discussions at hand, which concern ideas, not artifacts. I fully support the notion of physical property, and suspect that “post scarcity society” is as much rubbish as “intellectual property”. In any case, it is the “I” part of “IP” which makes the concept rubbish, and not the concept of property itself.
If you have the time, please be so kind as to re-read my article with the above in mind and see if you can gather more of my meaning. I look forward to further discussions on this matter.
Ziggy: He meant Titanic the movie, not the unfortunate ocean vessel. ðŸ˜‰
Sleepyfoo: While crowdfunding (which is essentially arts patronization) hasn’t hit the ~$340M budget numbers that Hollywood manages to spend on their movies, it is doing really, really well. Star Citizen is the current preeminent example at over $49M garnered in pre- and mid-production support. None of this is post sales, and none of this requires draconian DRM (whether or not Star Citizen choses to employ it).
You say there are not many Patrons of the Arts in modern society: I say there are more than there have ever been before. The difference is you don’t need to be able to bankroll an individual’s entire livelihood in your margins anymore, and that can only be a good thing. Now, we can all vote with our money before products are even finished!
Toad makes a good point about there being more patrons now thanks to crowdfunding.
That said, even the artists using kickstarter are using it to make a product that they can then sell in the business world (though some the kickstarter itself is the actual product, Potato Salad for example).
Intellectual property is less “I Thought of it First” and more “I did it first” at it’s core.
The Idea/Theory behind patents is you make an advancement that you make public knowledge, but only you get to sell the new improved product. But because the technology behind it is public, someone else can improve upon that and sell their version. In Practice the system is rather exploitable, and some patents are given improperly.
Copyright has a similar idea, but the execution is even worse. The concept is you put the effort into creating something, thus you should get compensation for it. Much like if you build a car and sell it, if you paint an awesome picture, write and awesome book, etc, you should get the fruits of your labors. This worked “great” before the internet made everything digital easily transferable and reproducible. In theory, copyright should be more like patent, in that you have a limited time to hold it, and only few renewals. In Practice, Copyright is a horribly abused system that needs a major overhall to deal with this changing world we are in. But the base concept is still valuable.
Your proposed solution is essentially, “the system can’t handle the world, let’s just not have a system” rather than, you know, fix it. Intellectual Property is a fundamental part of capitalism, necessary for the expression and execution of the associated values.
You say “someone else can improve upon that and sell their version”, but in practice optimum solutions are often reached very quickly in open market conditions. Patents either slow this process (through threat of litigation) or are made counter-productive by it (since they force the manufacture of inferior competitive products). Either way, my point stands that patents are not only bad in specific practice, but universally bad in theory. If you have a sound case, show me the theoretical underpinnings, and demonstrate how it differs from the framework of thought which I propose. Otherwise your examples will continue to crumble, as they have no foundation in my mind.
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I sometimes think of an idea in class, and then another person says what I was thinking, and then I have to think of another idea, because I don’t want them to say “Hey, I thought of that!”
I don’t mind saying things that other people say.
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Hiya! I found this through a link on 20 sided, and while it’s four years old by this point I’m hoping you’re going to be notofied if I post here :P.
First, let me say that I’m playing devil’s advocate with my arguments here–I mostly agree with you, but there’s a niggling issue I want to bring up.
That issue is the idea of recurring revenue. I worked at a mechanical contracting company for a long time, and at that company we had two types of jobs: installation and service. Installation jobs were extremely lucrative, but also extremely inconsistent. They depended on bids which may or may not be accepted at any time, and any company which depended on them often had hiring gluts and layoffs depending on the climate of the month.
Service jobs–contracts where the company committed to maintenance and emergency support for the customer in exchange for a monthly fee–were recurring revenue. Once a service contract was sold, the company had a dependable source of income coming in every month which–while it did not require as much personnel as a bid–effectively gave one to ten technicians job security for the duration of the service contract. Companies that rely solely on service contracts are generally smaller, but are much better places to work if you manage to get a job there.
While most people don’t couch their arguments in these terms, I think a lot of times “intellectual property exists so creators can benefit from their work” is code for “intellectual property is a the only source of recurring revenue for creators.”
It quite often takes iterations through many bad ideas to arrive at a good idea, and nobody involved wants to be one bad idea away from a layoff. This is especially true in area where you have to spend close to a decade of post-secondary education before you can even contribute. The way I see it, creators fit into three categories:
1) Creators who have alternative sources of productivity beyond creating. Say, a professor at a college who teaches in addition to research or a physician at a research hospital who also sees patients. These creators often rely on inconsistent funding sources such as grants or endowments for their work, but that’s OK because even if they fail to produce a saleable idea quickly they can still be productive.
2) Creators who do “pure” creative endeavors who usually work directly or indirectly for a corporate entity that will leverage intellectual property powers to generate recurring revenue from the ideas generated by creators. This is where software development, movie studios, a large portion of pharmaceutical research, and other intensely collaborative arts and sciences live.
3) Small scale creators who commission and crowdfund. A lucky few reach a critical mass of people interested in their work so that they can live off of donations and commissions. The rest (majority) either live a miserable existence where they will never be able count on paying next months rent, or they only create part-time while they work a consistent paying job.
I don’t know how category 2 exists without IP, and category 2 is where the most ideas are generated. In fact, category 2 encompasses entire markets within the market of ideas…
As you nod to later in your comment, IP is not the “only source” of recurring revenue, as patronage has (more prominently in the past) been the main form of consistent artistic support.
I take issue with “a decade of post-secondary education before you can even contribute”, which I think is the common practice exactly because of IP-centric thinking.
Your argument is even stronger than you let on, as both areas 1 and 2 rely on IP to function. Grants and one-time endowments nearly always allow joint use of any IP developed in the process.
So, yes, it is difficult to make money by being creative. Like I said at the end of the article, I WANT to make money from being creative, and I KNOW that IP is the culturally normative method to do this, which is why it’s so painful to have to admit that I’m pretty sure it’s totally evil where it isn’t simply silliness.
I admit that IP is lucrative. Major IP holders make a lot of money. But so did slave-holders, until slavery became illegal. Great economic incentives and widespread cultural acceptance doesn’t indicate that it’s the right thing to do.
“the right to extort all persons in the future for an indeterminate amount of both time and resources”
This part of your argument points to a less extreme solution, without needing to abandon intellectual property – give it a shorter duration. Copyrights originally lasted (at least in the USA) for only 14 years; That’s enough time for an author to reasonably make money off of a book, or a mucisian to sell records. Copyright terms currently last about a century, but keep getting extended; If enough people cared about changing this (voting, writing to their political representatives, etc), it could be kept at a reasonable length of time. Society would still benefit from being able to use other peoples’ ideas, and creators could still have a guarantee of making money from their efforts.
I’m late to the conversation, since I came from the latest link on Twenty Sided.
Thanks for the thoughtful response Echo!
I agree that your proposal to shorten IP protection terms would be less extreme, and probably more palatable to, let’s say, modern citizens of western cultures. And certainly, if that’s as far as we, as a culture, can go at this point, I’ll take it! It’s a step in the right direction!
But that doesn’t really address the underlying argument that IP legislation is destructive and rapacious. If the argument is sound, then I don’t see why we should be tolerating IP at all. Conversely, if IP is healthy and useful then I could consider arguments for increasing the term of protection just as easily as decreasing it.
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