Carolyn Noelle Llige

Management Consultant, Tridel Technologies, Inc.

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To whom does an idea, a poem or design really belong to?

In the movie 'Il Postino' Pablo Neruda was scolding Mario Ruoppolo (his postman) for plagerizing his (Pablo's) poem so he (Mario) could woo the woman he was pursuing. Pablo said that Mario can't just use someone's work (in this case Pablo's poem) without owner's permission. Mario wanted to know why. Pablo said because it didn't belong to him. But Mario argued that poems don't belong to the writer, they belong to whomever needs it.

At first blush Pablo would seem to be right in his claim, but on deeper consideration, maybe Mario has an even more valid point. Writings, designs and ideas are never created in a vacuum. They always happen within a context of circumstance, of culture, of geography and of language. It could never be created without all these external input. Likewise any idea or creation would have no value except when released within that same context. So why then should the 'creator' claim exclusive ownership if his ability to create and the value or utility of his creation are contingent upon the context within which he creates?

Could anyone really be able to create anything without a language, without some form of education, without resources, all of which were made available to him (the creator) by entities other than himself. And even if he could, of what value would his creation be, if only he were to use it.

I am proposing therefore, that perhaps our concept of intellectual property rights are flawed. That since the creation and viability of the intellectual property require participation from a much larger base then ownership should likewise be shared with that base.

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    Oct 16 2011: Once an idea is spread publicly there is no way to control its spreading. It is like trying to own a flu virus that was bread in your body. I do agree that creating "intellectual property" is hard work, but enforcing the bad practices will hurt the society and even the creator of the work in a long term. Also note that no "intellectual property" is created in vacuum - it is always a derived work of something else.

    Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standing_on_the_shoulders_of_giants for explanation.

    Another point against the "intellectual property" is malfunctioning patent offices which do not have the resources nor expertise to check for validity of the patents.
    One of many examples: http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20110929142255684

    We should find a new and better way of rewarding creators of "intellectual property" instead of a system that creates more problems then value.

    "Intellectual property" is also more valuable if it reaches many people so by limiting it's availability the authors are shooting themselves in the foot.

    OPEN SOURCE and CREATIVE COMMONS is the way to go in my opinion.
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    Nov 5 2011: I'd like to cite a quote that says it best. In a letter to Isaac McPherson, Tomas Jefferson writes:

    "...It would be curious then, if an idea, the fugitive fermentation of an individual brain, could, of natural right, be claimed in exclusive and stable property.

    If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.

    That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.

    Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.

    ...In some other countries it is sometimes done, in a great case, and by a special and personal act, but, generally speaking, other nations have thought that these monopolies produce more embarrassment than advantage to society; and it may be observed that the nations which refuse monopolies of invention, are as fruitful as England in new and useful devices."
    http://www.usewisdom.com/sayings/patentsj.html
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    Nov 5 2011: I just saw another video on TED about open-source cancer research, which absolutely convinces me that all 'intellectual property' belongs to humanity, that no one entity should own it. That it is crazy to allow anyone to own this kind of information, for 2 reasons, 1st, the delay in progress that protective secrecy will inevitably cause. Without the open sharing of ideas and collaboration all over the planet, breakthroughs will be very slow. And 2nd, if a solution exists that could cure person or even save his life, this treatment should not be withheld from anyone and certainly not for considerations of monetary gain.

    Here's the Ted video: http://www.ted.com/talks/jay_bradner_open_source_cancer_research.html
  • Nov 4 2011: It belongs to those who use it or can relate to it the most.
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    Oct 22 2011: Very little is original and then again almost everything is. The death of the author and Post Modernism made stealing legal and quite OK .Considering that's whats been happening all thwe time. we are copying machines sometimes however we dress it up a little different.
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    Oct 19 2011: "...belong to"

    I am not sure I speak your language...
    The Little Prince (Saint-Exupery) would not understand it either...

    I love. I create. I build. I inspire. I motivate. I imagine. I do. I laugh. I play. I seek.
    Those are my verbs.
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    Oct 18 2011: What if Pablo sold the rights of his poem to Mario, and then Mario could call it his poem? :P

    There's a reason why Bill Gates is deathly afraid of open-source. It's because it makes more sense.

    When I was a kid it was called sharing. As I got older I learned it was actually called stealing. I also learned that learning some things was a crime. This is the bizarre world we live in, but it's only bizarre because of the words we use to describe it. Everything would make a lot more sense if we referred to patents and copyrights as "intellectual monopoly".
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    Oct 18 2011: Everyone, everywhere...thats all I got.
  • Oct 16 2011: "Mario argued that poems don't belong to the writer, they belong to whomever needs it."
    Mario does not respect intellectual property rights and is being intellectually dishonest towards the woman he is pursuing if claiming the work as his own. Thieves will often claim that something can't be owned or in not owned by the creator to clear themselves of any wrongdoing.

    Need does not erase the fact that someone took time, effort and personal assets to craft something of value. For example, if a family is hungry and needs food, it is not right to steal food on the basis of that need. Our society cannot function in this manner.

    "why then should the 'creator' claim exclusive ownership if his ability to create and the value or utility of his creation are contingent upon the context within which he creates? "

    Because the creator took available information and processed that information in such a way as to create something distinctive with value. Ex. A baker that takes raw ingredients to make bread.

    Just because intellectual property is not a type of physical property, it is and should be valued as protected property to reward and/or acknowledge the creator.
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      Oct 18 2011: Yes, no one else should be allowed to make that bread.
      • Oct 19 2011: How can we keep pirates from claiming what belongs to the public domain? They wait for millions of people to ponder ideas and experiment in a million varied settings, using pubic funds and communal context, then suddenly they leap in front as if they had formed the crowd behind. On the other hand, how can we maintain motivation to do anything at all? Should we award patents on ways of breathing? Should ones walk down the sidewalk be copyrighted? A lawyer finds a way to make it valuable, because we will all pay to breath and walk, should the choice become not to.
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          Oct 20 2011: Well nowadays you probably could copyright your walk, if you made it unique enough. You can patent a process of thought, a genetically modified organism (and own all the offspring), knowledge of how something works... it's kind of out of control. You've hit the nail on the head.

          Money and motivation... in many cases, money just motivates us to create garbage. Look at cable television. Most tv shows exist solely to get ratings. They don't necessarily raise awareness of issues, teach us new skills or open our minds to new ways of thinking. The only reason they're given air time is to get us to watch commercials. Even the news and documentaries on the History channel aren't spared... it's all really just sensationalized crap.

          Look at food. I don't know about you, but I usually enjoy a bowl of artificially colored corn starch with a glass of high fructose corn syrup in the morning. Delivering quality food to people doesn't seem to be on the minds of many producers. Government subsidies and cheap ingredients are.

          So we've created this kind of superficial culture... we go to work a job that even money can't get us to enjoy, and we come home to eat and watch what basically amounts to crap. I'm not knocking capitalism. My point is that when money is the only motivating factor, the results just aren't that great.

          Clearly money makes things happen. This computer I'm typing on didn't grow on a tree. But if it becomes hard to profit off books, music and movies because of piracy, maybe it'll help weed out some of the crap. People who are passionate about creating quality products will still be happily at work. Just look at Linux.
      • Oct 20 2011: What's missing are the intellectual property rights of the public domain.
        The Public should have the status of a corporation or individual. Like other institutions, we should be able to protect the Public from being usurped and pirated by naive, self-centered individuals or groups.
      • Oct 22 2011: @Fred Lanisake
        Try scooping off the sugary coating on your eyes and you will see a lot of nutritional things available for consumption.

        The patent process is there to protect people and promote innovation. I doubt you can say the same for rampant theft. Ask yourself if it would make sense for a pharmaceutical company to spend billions of dollars on developing a new drug if a competitor could simply steal and sell the formula as their own.

        And with Linux, permission has been granted to allow peer-to-peer development. This is much different than taking what you "need."
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          Oct 22 2011: Well, more accurately the patent process exists to define using another party's idea as theft. It's been a controversial idea for the past few centuries that intellectual property laws have been around. The idea of theft traditionally has its roots in morality, not law. That is, it's universal, a more found in every culture. If I take something that belongs to you, so that you no longer have it, that's theft. Even if there were no laws, I would still be taking something from you.

          The purpose of the patenting process is to allow parties to secure a monopoly on an innovation. Whether or not it promotes innovation is highly debatable... I'd argue that it really stifles innovation. If there were no monopolies on innovation, companies would have to deal with much greater competition, which would drive progress. If you came out with a product, and I was able to build off that same design and release an improved version the next day, you'd have no choice but to improve, or else lose to competition.

          Instead what we have are companies purposely throttling their own innovation. New improvements are often designed years ahead of time, but slowly released little by little as to maximize profit. This is evident with industry leaders such as Adobe. If Adobe were ever to release their source code under the GNU GPL, we'd see the quality of their products take off.

          Let's not get started on the practices of the pharmaceutical industry :P. There's nothing ethical about patenting cures.