property? possession?

Property is ...


Ehhh, err, uhhhhhmmmm, ...

property is something you have

... for the general "you".

Which is one reason they used to say, "Possession is nine-tenths of the law."

Maybe 7/10, just a decade ago, what with all the absentee land-lording and third homes and other messy stuff going on. Seems like there has been a trend of people wanting to maintain property rights without taking the time to actually maintain them.

And, with the new interpretations of that oxymoron (oxy-moron!) IP (intellectual paucity property, it seems to be that possession is taking a dive in meaning -- zero-tenths?

Some of Apple's and Microsoft's claims make me think they want property rights retro-actively. Would that be -9/10? I mean, the way they talk, actual possession, actually maintaining property rights, should be considered an abdication or something. (Except for their own claims, of course.)

This is not a surprising result. When you start allowing vague patent claims and effectively permanent copyrights, people will try to claim the world. And then try to use their vague patents and frivolous copyrights for all sorts of mischief and abusive behavior.

Do we still dare make fun of Richard Stallman's fantasies? -- in which he demonstrated just one scenario for abusing the tendencies of intellectual property claims to overreach -- Do we dare ignore the edge of the precipice, where we drop off the slippery-slopes of day-to-day recognizing freedom, into a repeat of the same-old conceits of totalitarianism as history is full of?

(Littered with fallen autocrats. Why can't would-be demagogues and demigods learn from history without repeating the disasters? I'm looking at you, Myhrvold, Gates, Cook (subbing for Jobs), Ellison, Sherman, Rosen, and your friends, for starters.)

Poison my own well with extreme rhetoric. I suppose I should back up a bit. Explain myself before starting to accuse people of wanting to be the second coming of Napoleon.

Possession: Back in Biblical times, it was considered the height of anti-social behavior to destroy the landmarks that people set up. There were two reasons, one having to do with the lack of GPS, and the other having to do with the amount of real property it took to keep flocks and herds fed year-round, from year-to-year.

But it wasn't generally the mere use of the land when you were absent that was cause for war. It was when you found your steward dead in the wilderness because he couldn't find his way back home, because your enemy moved your landmark. That was when you went to war.

On the contrary, if your enemy observed a few proprieties, showed a few courtesies, it was considered an obligation on your part to let even your enemy water his herds at your well from time to time, even to graze your fields from time to time. That was the way they avoided (for a time) descending into the waves of wars back and forth that continually interrupted the progress of such things as civilization.

Other than that, for most of history, if you wanted to claim ownership of something, you had to constantly keep it near you, near enough to both maintain and defend. And, even in the Biblical time and periods, if you failed to maintain your own landmarks, your enemy wouldn't bother to, either. And you would have a hard time getting any sympathy from your neighbors if you said, "Go with me, I'm going to defend my claims!"

And maintaining your landmarks was not running into the nearest town and raising a fuss about it. It was actually going out there, actually clearing your wells, paths, and tent areas, etc. Dressing the posts, piles, and other markers.

Using your claim.

And if you weren't using it, after a time you abandoned it. That was also part of the rules. Common courtesy. Live and let live, in a very literal sense, when land claimed and not used was land that could not be used to support life, when the essentials of water, food, and shelter were so hard to find.

Claims on intangibles? Who had time for that kind of thing? Well, okay, priests and kings.

Shoot. Even a king who failed to justify his claims to rule tended to be removed as quickly as not. Or ignored.

Other intangibles? Technology was in the hands of wizards and other various savants. Some shared their wisdom, others kept it secret. If they wanted to use force or violence to enforce their rights to their secrets, well, there were unsavory methods some resorted to.

But savants who were crazy enough to try to enforce secrecy over a distance didn't last long, either. They would tend to fall victim to their own plots.

Perhaps the current spate of insanity is derived from the illusion that computers can solve such problems of enforcing claims at a distance. They can't, really, but the question remains -- why?

If you want to claim the right to permanent support from society just because you created something, what makes you so arrogant as to try to use that right to tell other people what to do? Especially if what they want to do is work you wouldn't be able to do yourself (not being able to be two places at once)?

Nobody has the right to permanent support, stupid promises of the RIAA or MPAA notwithstanding.

Nobody has the right to tell people what they can or can't think. Okay, at least nobody's stupid enough to claim that yet.

But neither does anyone have any real right to tell other people what they can or can't say or sing in public, except in extreme cases where it could cause immediate loss of life to innocent bystanders (such as crying, "Fire!" in a crowded theater and such things).

And neither does anyone have any real right to tell other people what they can or can't make, other than extreme cases such as making unstable explosives and such.

There is a range of activities in the market place in which controls over intangibles  do make sense, ergo patents and copyrights, if and only if the claims are kept within the bounds of reason. These are not "intellectual" property. Attempts to treat them as such are precisely the biggest cause of the current malaise of the economy.

Patents and copyrights are temporary liens against parts of the market.

They are not property because nothing is created in a vacuum. Every creative worker, whether artist, author, inventor, researcher, whatever, depends heavily on the context within which he or she works, and owes a huge debt to the context.

The context is the rest of us.

Without the context, creation of even simple things rapidly becomes very hard. (Try to invent a computer operating system from scratch some time. Well, that was one of my object lessons on the subject.) Things worth patenting (or even copyrighting) become impossible without the context of society.

The context is the rest of us. (Let me repeat myself.)

Letting one person or one company have too much control over his or their inventions has generally resulted in such things as what happened to Nicola Tesla, and to Edward Howard Armstrong. Serious abuses result when things which are not property are called property by the law.

Tesla's dreams were too big. The processing units required to fulfill his dreams were simply not workable with the technology of the time. But there was no excuse for the dominant power companies of the time to use the courts to attempt to prevent his continued research. And society lost quite a lot of technological potential when they lost Tesla. (You idiots claiming loss of future market value have absolutely no idea of how little your claims are worth, compared to what we lost as a society there).

Armstrong's push into FM may have been too fast for the dominant radio companies to keep pace. That's what they claimed, but history does not bear their claims out.

And it does not excuse what those companies did, nor their attempts to shove the blame for Armstrong's suicide back onto the man that broke. That's bullying, pure and simple.

And the irony is that the rightful owners of the patents involved were Tesla and Armstrong.

What went wrong? Patents treated as if they were property in the courts.

Abstract property is, as I have to keep repeating, too much of a temptation to people who think they have some right to power. It's too easy to abuse -- because who can say what it controls until after a lot of time and money are wasted in the courts? Time and money that the rightful owners of said patents and copyrights don't usually have because they are too busy creating.

Abstract property cannot be defended without huge resources of time and money.

Creative types generally do not focus on amassing that much money, and time they have to spend in the lawyers' offices and courtrooms is not time spent in creative work.

Abstract property is a magnet. Too easy to abuse. Intellectual property is abstract property.

We have to pare the concepts of patent and copyright back, divorce them from the concepts of intellectual property, or the economy is going to be the least of our problems.

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