Tuesday Rant XXI - Copyrights

by pieterh on 15 Dec 2009 14:24

I'm glad to say that last week's rant has translated into action. Customized profile pages - a major spammer vulnerability in Wikidot.com - now don't appear except for Pro users. There is another new pro-only (not pro-lite) feature too, which is the ability to create per-site profiles for users. When you enable this, your site members get a page in the profiles: category, which they can edit.

My rant today is about something I've discussed before on the blog: copyrights, licensing, and copying. I'm also going to go off-topic and get political. This is my personal opinion, not Wikidot official policy.

There is an… interesting thread on the community site about a site dedicated to "Stopping music theft". My personal view is that we are all richer when we share culture, and that the words "theft" and "intellectual property" are propaganda, abused in order to try to give ideas, knowledge, and culture the same property status as wheat, cattle, or money.

This site does not violate the Wikidot Terms of Service, but personally, (and this is not official Wikidot policy, just my personal view) I find it distasteful. Who monitors the blacklists? What stops a list of banned sites becoming a list of "dangerous" sites, "offensive" sites, or "politically incorrect" sites?

Deeper, all property is a political construction with economic goals. The state creates property by law, in order to maximize economic benefits. Roads are common property, houses private, because this works better than private roads and public housing. There have been massive experiments, and failures. The USSR failed largely because it used a failed property model based on collective ownership of the means of production. There is nothing sacred with "property", it is simply a political tool that creates (or fails to create) economic value. Over time, failed property models die, and better ones survive.

Property laws that fail to create economic value (for society at large, not the owners!) should not exist, no matter how powerful or vocal their proponents. If all property was by definition good, we would still own other people as chattel. Women would still be property of their fathers or husbands. Children would work.

The music industry is particularly insidious in actively lobbying for laws that benefit it, at the cost of society at large, while claiming a moral high ground based on nothing more than words like "intellectual property"1. I am not particularly happy with copying of music, lyrics, or movies, but the music industry (leading the movie and TV industries now) forces extortionate prices on the market. It costs almost zero to distribute a digital product. If people go to such lengths to copy, it's because the official price is fraudulent and kept high by manipulating the market, and legal system.

Perhaps part of my ire at this site comes from that sentence, "many tech-savvy people philosophically favor open source everything including music and thus may take umbrage with the very thing I am trying to accomplish which is to stop the theft of intellectual property." As if open source is not 100% based on strong copyright, and enforcement of that!

Back to Wikidot, to make my rant semi-relevant. We're going to be making two changes. First of all, all new free sites will be licensed under the Creative Commons Share-Alike license. Existing alternative licenses will remain. Second, Pro site owners will have the option of blocking cloning, and cross-site includes, of their content.

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