Re: Hmmmmm

Subject: Re: Hmmmmm
From: Chris Rolfe (
Date: Mon May 24 1999 - 19:21:33 EDT

I think the important themes, property and authorial rights, are being
conflated and confused here:

Property law deals with the right to "exclusive use", that is, the right to
exclude others from using something you own. No trespassing. Keep out.

It's usually limited in term and scope (fee-simple on urban land, for
example, doesn't include drilling rights, or satellite fly-overs), and it
can lapse if neglected (squatting rights, etc.).

Although copyright (under the American model) was established explicitly to
encourage cultural and intellectual development -- give a writer a
short-term copyright, equivalent to a property right, and, so the argument
flowed, writers would be encouraged to produce work -- the use of copyright
today amounts to abuse. It's trafficking.

My foremost objection to treating intellectual property as property, per
se, is that it is a tortured and innapropriate concept. Music is not dirt.
Ideas are not fruit trees (or picked apples, a la John Locke's mixed-labour
argument). Music is an exchange, inherently worthless in isolation.

As far as copyright encouraging diversity, that seems utterly wrong.
Diversity thrives with free use. Copyright, as it stands, stifles the free
flow and re-use of ideas.

The greatest horror of copyright law lies, surely, in the stockpiling of
copyright by a small number of corporations. Many lawyers now specialize in
seeking trademark protection for things like Bela Lugosi's likeness, or Tom
Waits' voice, knowing that trademark is less limited than copyright. They
want to "brand" everything. We are witnessing the carving up of the
semioscape, in which common words, images, sounds and traditions (hell,
even genetics) are being copyrighted, trademarked and patented, the sole
purpose being to charge 10-80% on ANY free exchange of ideas. Any economist
(free-market conservatives, especially) will tell you that tariffs are
barriers to exchange.

The other aspect of intellectual property right (French in origin),
authorial rights, seems to be the one most people here think they are
defending. It's the notion that authors ought not be ripped off by
publishers or other artists (I wrote the tune, you should pay me for the
sheet music).

The right to have one's work treated with respect, and, acknowledged, is a
human right and grounded in natural law. The legal fiction that ideas are
real property was an experiment that has failed to serve it's purpose.

I repeat that copyright should be non-transferable. No work-for-hire, no
Sony catalogue... it's a personal/cultural expression, or it's public


At 11:55 PM -0300 5/24/99, Steven Naylor wrote:
>For me, the issues at the root of any kind of appropriation are property
>and power (as articulated earlier largely by Dennis Bathory-Kitsz).

>One solution for simplifying things is certainly to dismiss all related
>notions of property and declare the world a cultural/intellectual 'free
>trade' zone. The obvious flaw in this is the tendency to cultural
>homogeneity, or the loss of artistic diversity; a similar drop in
>inventiveness would certainly take place in the physical sciences.

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