Chad Perrin: SOB

25 April 2006

Dream a Little Dream (of IP)

Filed under: Geek,Liberty,Metalog — apotheon @ 03:31

A recent posting to the GoLUG mailing list caught my eye, and it begs to be shared with the wider world (edited, with permission, for clarity):

With all the negative reports I’ve seen about what is presently going on affecting free software, I have been having trouble sleeping. Last night I dreamt I saw the following in the news.

<dream> In an early morning speech at at David Duke University, President Bush declared:

“The federal government has no business controlling official standards. This is an area best left to private industry. Industrial groups like the RIAA demonstrate the benefits of standards being the intellectual property of corporations and their trade associations. Where would the computer industry be without Microsoft? I have issued an executive order to sell off the current standards held by the government. Due to the importance of an orderly transition, I am suspending the usual bidding process, and using the ‘no bid’ approach which worked so well in selecting companies to aid in Iraqi reconstruction and the rebuilding of New Orleans. After all, as President, it is up to me to determine what is best for the United States.”

By late afternoon it was clear that bulk of the standards would be in the hands of the same corporations that were selected previously on no bid contracts. The coveted unit of distance was won by Halliburton Inc. A spokesman for the company said, “We are honored by the trust the American people have given us. Our lawyers are presently meeting to determine how we can use our new intellectual property for the benefit of the country and our stockholders.” Halliburton stock rose by $200 a share.

The unit of time was won by Shaw Group of Baton Rouge. A corporate spokesman said, “We are considering changing the unit of time from the ‘Second’ to the ‘Bush’ which will based on the average time between words in President George W. Bush’s first inaugural address. Although this is slightly longer than the current ‘Second’ I think the public will appreciate the extra time they are given on their long distance telephone plans. Of course, telecoms will have to pay us royalties for use of our new unit in establishing their phone rates.”

Surprisingly most major corporations seemed unconcerned by the changes. A spokesman for Microsoft Corporation said, “We are always in favor of anything that reduces government regulation of our business. We don’t feel that royalty cost will have a major impact on our product prices. We have always kept a significant amount of cash assets for such contingencies. We feel we can buy enough stock to any standard holding corporation to replace or offset any required royalties. In fact we bought a 25% interest in Halliburton just prior to their stock rise.”

Stock analysts also seem encouraged. In an interview, a Goldman Sachs representative stated, “Sure prices will go up, but as with the oil companies, this can only lead to higher profits. It’s only small companies that are affected and they don’t trade on the major stock exchanges. I’m sure many small companies will do quite well selling themselves to larger traded corporations. The average family debt will increase but this will only increase the profits of credit card and other lending companies. All in all this is good news for the stock exchanges. We even have a new market sector the FU or fundamental units sector.”

Free software advocate Richard Stallman had this to say about today’s announcement, “I am greatly upset by what is happening. After watching trade groups like the RIAA, there seems to be no limit on the repressive legal actions the new standards companies can do. We will continue to fight such efforts in the courts. This will make developing free software much harder, but we will not give up. We will expand the GNU project so that GNU no longer stands for ‘GNU’s not Unix’. It will now stand for ‘GNU’s not Units’. We will be removing all current units from our code, and replacing them by GNU equivalents. There will be GNU/NAS which will be the GNU ‘Not A Second’ new unit of ‘Not Time’. Likewise there will be a GNU/NAM (Not A Meter) measure of ‘Not Distance’. I think you can see the pattern. I have developed a new Emacs mode (not-units-mode) to help in the process of code conversion.” </dream>

The above bit of satire was originally authored by Barry Fishman. Credit where it’s due.

Sake makes my world go ’round.

Filed under: Cognition,Metalog — apotheon @ 02:13

If my memory of the bottle before I started drinking is any kind of accurate, I’ve had more than a third of a bottle of junmai daiginjyo-shu since a little before midnight. This stuff is incredible. It is, bar none, the best sake I’ve ever had in my life.

Oddly enough, the bottle recommends refrigeration (well, drinking it “cold”, specifically), but the best flavor I find comes at a few degrees below room temperature. In other words, drink Mu Sake when it’s been stored in a cool, dry, dark place, but not in your refrigerator.

I’m drunk. This is my first drunken posting exercise in SOB: Stimulating Observational Bullfrackery. I hope it’s enjoyable.

I got this bottle as a b’day present. I enjoy all the presents I’ve gotten this year (my b’day was a few days ago), even including the card I’ve received, the empty and effortless wishes of good will, and the card that hasn’t yet arrived. I really rather appreciate the DVD, the CDs, and of course the book Wicked Cool Perl Scripts. The bottle of junmai daiginjyo-shu, however, is the bestest. This is probably unsurprising, since (aside from relatives) it came from the person I’ve known longest that actually gave me a gift. I’ve known her since 1999, I dated her for a while, and she’s one of my best friends. She knows me better than most, and frankly, the fact I received this bottle of sake really touched me.

The more I think about it, the more I realize just how well she knows me, and the more it surprises me that someone knows me this well. I would not have thought of this gift for myself. Perhaps there’s more to this notion that the family we choose is more important than the family we’re saddled with at birth than some of us realize. Keep in mind that I’m drunk right now: I have no idea whether that last sentence made any sense, or was a good idea to post even if it did.

This sake, by the way, is amazing. It’s the best sake I have ever had in my life. Its flavor is something like the very essence of clarity, distilled and rendered in liquid form. Also, I finished the bottle tonight. And my teeth hurt. And I’m apparently intoxicated enough that starting sentences with the word “and” doesn’t bother me much.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of weblog spam lately. I have a pretty good idea for an entry here at SOB on the subject. Expect it soonish. I think. Assuming I don’t get sidetracked. It will involve links to Ameliorations and Chip’s Quips, at least. Exciting, no? No. Oh, well. Such is the life.

My toes are going numb. Good thing I’m out of alcohol.

Oh, and in other news — I think I’m going to give a couple other people authorship access to SOB ‘ere long. Truthfully, I’m interested in ensuring that there’s a semi-regular stream of posts here of interest so that I’ll keep drawing traffic to this thing, even when I go most of a month without posting much like I have this month. More (interested) traffic is almost all of the reason for letting others into authorship status here. The remainder has something to do with wanting to see more of what these people have to say in a venue that’s more easily watched than their usual online haunts.

I’m taking applications for addition to the authoring pool, if you’re interested, by any means you have for contacting me, by the way. I’m likely to ignore or deny such applications, though, in part because I’ll be sober in the morning, and in part because I will want a very specific sort of focus to this thing, and I don’t even know what that focus is, yet. So yeah. That. And other stuff.

Send me more junmai daiginjyo-shu sake that makes me happy. That, and money. Money would be good. And books. I love books. If forced to choose between the existence of books and a woman I loved, I’d have to think about it.

24 April 2006

Prohibition, Intellectual Property, and Encryption

Filed under: Cognition,Geek,Liberty — apotheon @ 02:28

In the 1920s and early ’30s, the United States suffered under a nationwide ban on drinking alcohol. This was known as the Prohibition Era. After decades of demonstrations and lobbying, temperance groups managed to sway Congress to enact the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. It was ratified in 1919, and it was suddenly illegal to produce and distribute high alcohol content consumables. The idea was to eliminate the perceived negative effects of the availability of alcohol. It was a noble endeavor, proceeding from the moral rectitude and good intentions of those who initiated the entire movement — at least in theory. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.

It was an essentially unmitigated disaster. Oh, sure, there were some good effects that arose, perhaps most notably the wealth of good, stylish gangster flicks we’ve gotten to enjoy over the years that wouldn’t ever have existed without Prohibition, and of course the tradition of smoky-voiced slinky-dressed speakeasy torch singers. In terms of actually producing any positive effects within the realms of law and order, public safety, reduction of self-destructive behavior in the general populace, safeguarding bystanders against depredations of vice peddlers, and even improving the image of authoritarian governmental structures, it was a complete disaster. It wasn’t only undeterring in any meaningful sense, but also unenforceable. Partying went on. Drinking proceeded. Vice peddlers made more money than ever, because a black market cannot be policed to protect against anticompetitive, and otherwise unethical, practices.

Something similar has been going on in the War on Some Drugs for quite some time now. I’m sure that in time we’ll be looking back at this new recreational chemical Prohibition in much the same way we currently look back on the original Prohibition Era, with the possible exception that nobody will think much of the music associated with the drug dealers of the present day. Jimi Hendrix will likely always be more highly regarded as a musician than Snoop Dogg (once we’ve gotten a little cultural distance from the rap fad as we have from the surreality of ’60s rock and roll), after all. There’s another distinct comparison between the Prohibition Era and today that is slightly less obvious to those who aren’t both computer geeks and armchair lawyers, however: intellectual property law.

Intellectual property law really arises out of a conflation of the concept of tangible property law and the concept of attribution of linguistically defined creative works. Even tangible property law is, itself, an abstraction from and extension of something more “real”: physical possession.

In essence, what it all boils down to is a misconstrued relationship between an ethical restriction against unprovoked violence and an ethical restriction against dishonest dealings, both of which are in turn derived from a right of self-determination. Not only is this the ultimate philosophical justification for the things that, by interaction and lazy analysis, lead to the legal construct known as “intellectual property”, but I think it is also probably the historical progenitor of the line of derived ethical (mis)calculations that leads eventually to enshrinement in law of the proprietization of the intellect. Let’s see if we can put this in simple, step-by-step terms:

  1. Self-determination: We have the right to determine our own disposition and state, which translates to an ethical restriction against interfering with the rights of others to determine their own dispositions and states. As such, the freedom of the individual is limited by a restriction against interfering with similar freedoms of others. A corollary right is that of self-defense, whereby one who acts to interfere with the freedom of others is subject to the actions of others without such restraints to the extent necessary to eliminate this threat to the right of self-determination.
    1. Violence: To enact violence against another, unprovoked, is to interfere with the exercise of the right of self-determination. To then counter-interfere in the freedoms of the attacker in answer to unprovoked violence (to ignore other forms of interference) for purposes of preventing (some of) the ill effects of that violence is self defense, even if the counteraction is violent in nature.
    2. Fraud: To deal dishonestly with another in an attempt to deceive someone into engaging in actions that are counter to that person’s actual desires in light of the truth is, likewise, to interfere with the exercise of the right of self-determination. The same preventative and defensive license is appropriate to this circumstance as to that of unprovoked violence.
  2. Ethical agency: One may engage others on one’s behalf in exercise and defense of one’s rights, so long as those agents of one’s exercise and defense of rights do not have their rights violated in the process. This is the basis of contractual agreement, obligation, and (ultimately) a system of law.
  3. Derived rights: By convention, our systems of law have, over time, accreted pseudo-rights derived from the initial rights that are, ultimately, merely case-specific facets of the right of self-determination. These can in theory be derived from those initial rights through carefully applied deductive logic. In practice, these derived rights are broken, and later-generation derived rights that are in turn derived from the first set of pseudo-rights are in turn even more broken by design. In the first generation of broken derived rights are such concepts as proprietary right and right of attribution — we might call these “conventional rights”. The conventional right of property is abstracted primarily from a right of freedom from unprovoked violence, as applied to physical possession: when one possesses some object, that object cannot be appropriated without interfering with the possessor’s right to self-determination. Similarly, the conventional right of attribution is abstracted primarily from a right of freedom from dishonest dealings, as applied to communication of the source of some work of creation. Interestingly, the conventional right of attribution is considered a right of the creator when it is, in fact, ethically based on the notion that the receiver of information pertaining to the creation has a right to be free from deceptive dealings.
  4. Intellectual property: By attaching the conventional right of (honest) attribution to the creator, a sense of “ownership” of attribution is conveyed, which overlaps conceptually with the similar concept of “ownership” conveyed by the conventional right of property. While extension of possessive rights into property is based on explicit and implicit contractual agreements regarding the behavior of one’s agents, such that “property” can leave one’s immediate possession with reasonable expectation that it will be returned in accordance with an understanding that such is a condition of relinquishment, intellectual property is a step removed from that. Similarly, extension of a right to freedom from deception into attribution is based on the necessity of honest dealings in safeguarding against violations of rights such that parties receiving information will not be tricked into acts antithetical to their wishes and rights, and intellectual property is similarly even a step removed from attribution. The apparent similarity of the attributive label and proprietary label conflates the two concepts, and thus intellectual property is born. Later retrojustifications are developed, including the very Marxist-toned “right to a return on investment” (wherein effort “deserves” compensation, just as the worker “owns” the product of his labor), but they’re really just square justifications being forced into round holes in the legal model.
Obviously, there have been a great many missteps along the path from initial right to ultimate state of sociopolitical authority structures, including a few that I completely avoided to circumnavigate some of the messier tangents I could pursue. Much of the above reasoning was never explicit in the minds of those who were part of the progression through a given step in the chain from the distant past to the bleeding edge present, and in fact rights were rarely the primary, conscious points of interest in their minds at all. Rights are merely the underlying, ethical principles of action that keep the (often willfully) ignorant general populace from descending entirely into a brutal, world-spanning bloodbath in a pointless war of attrition. If you think it’s “only” self-interest that prevents this, you haven’t thought too much about the relationship of self-interest to a right of self-determination.

The ethical refutation of intellectual property as a concept, as already shown in what is really a summary of the whole necessary exercise of refutation despite its lengthy babbling on, is complex and highly abstract in places. This unfortunately means that a lot of people just can’t (or can’t be bothered to) grasp it sufficiently to let it change their minds. There are a number of other approaches to take to this, however, with the two primary choices seeming to be the socioeconomic approach and the engineering approach. They’re both actually very similar under the hood, but we’ll leave that alone for the moment, especially since I’m only going to give the most cursory attention to the socioeconomic at this time.

Socioeconomic refutations are pretty simple to explain, typically, but it’s difficult to get those inclined to disagree to actually accept them. All it really takes to refute the socioeconomic justifications for intellectual property is to describe plausible alternative socioeconomic models that serve roughly the same ends as the justifications, and/or to explain how the socioeconomic models used as justifications fail in achieving their aims effectively (and often end up actively hindering those stated aims in practice). Unfortunately, all of this is ultimately dependent upon an ethical refutation to supplement the very engineering-like aspects of it, so dealing with socioeconomic refutations in a vacuum has limited use. It can only really be used to produce an uneasy truce if both “sides” are about equally equipped for debate, equally honest, and equally dedicated.

A great example, and only one of many, of an engineering refutation exists in the form of an essay called What Colour are your Bits?, the link to which I culled from a friend’s blog post (which I also recommend reading) called The Colour of Bits. What these engineering refutations mostly boil down to is a simple demonstration of two things:

  1. the complete lack of meaning to the concept of “ownership” of something that has no form, no substance, and no point of differentiation that makes it possible to draw a line between “owned” and “free” without liberal application of arbitrary, and often self-contradictory, decisions
  2. the ultimate unenforceability of intellectual property law
Do you see where I’m going with this? We’ve come full-circle: intellectual property is a poorly conceived, legally imposed fabrication of political authority structures created at the behest of those who intend some form of positive moral and quality of life effects (and those who personally benefit, but we’re granting the benefit of the doubt, mostly), which is ultimately unenforceable and based on arbitrary rules. There are differences, however, such as the much longer legal precedent for the enforcement in some form of intellectual property laws, the massive corporate interests supporting it, and the very open public opposition to it — to say nothing of the fact that because intellectual property and its most efficient means of transport are both ephemeral and resistant to enforcement of artificial scarcity, it’s not suited to the same sort of violent organized crime as alcohol prohibition. In some respects, that’s unfortunate: it mostly took the violence of organized crime in combination with the widespread subversion of the law to provoke the repeal of Prohibition.

There’s something else that bears a resemblance to Prohibition and is related to intellectual property, but it is related in a way that might surprise you. I’m referring to US laws regarding encryption.

The US government is essentially doing everything in its power to eliminate the ability of the general populace to employ effective encryption. I’m pretty much rambled-out at this point, so I’ll keep the big finale brief:

  1. prohibiting encryption is entirely antithetical in concept to enforcing intellectual property
  2. its widespread adoption is being driven by resistance to intellectual property enforcement
  3. it has only the most ephemeral form and implementation, so it is resistant to prohibition
  4. it is, by definition, self-concealing so that advances in technology ensure greater resistance to prohibition
  5. the justifications for restricting encryption are even flimsier than for basically anything else
  6. the aim of strengthening governmental security is actually damaged by attempts to curtail its widespread use, because it drives encryption innovation to other nations
  7. creating a black market for encryption by restricting it is likely to be compounded by its becoming a tool for facilitating other black markets even further than it currently does: it’s the old “outlaw it, and only outlaws will have it” deal
So, that all said, I think I’ll leave further ponderations on what I’ve said to you. Sorry if this is all sorta anticlimactic. I kinda lost track of where I was going. C’est la vie.

The moral of the story: don’t prohibit alcohol for consumption, other recreational drugs, file trading, or encryption. Really. Oh, yeah, and adopt libertarian ethics of nonaggression. Run along now, and be good.

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All original content Copyright Chad Perrin: Distributed under the terms of the Open Works License