ethical ubuntu

Peter Whittaker pwwnow at
Fri Jun 16 13:31:05 BST 2006

On Fri, 2006-16-06 at 16:50 +1000, Peter Garrett wrote:
> "Intellectual Property" is an invention - a clever misuse of the language
> to imply that ideas "belong" to one person or group. They don't. Ideas
> belong to all of humanity.

The confident assertion that ideas belong to all of humanity is but one
pole of the argument (the other being that ideas belong to the person
who first conceived/published/shared them). Granted, this is reducing
the whole matter to an artificial polemic, but this is useful to
illustrate the point.

Differences between "copyright" and "droits d'auteur" are interesting to
note here: The Wikipedia article on French copyright law
( has an excellent
example of architects who can prevent changes to buildings they've
designed, based on the moral rights they have to their design (the
design itself having been sold under their property rights). (Whether
this is the still the case is beyond the scope of this thread... ...I
hope.... :->).

I'm neither agreeing nor disagreeing with you (my views on copyright are
irrelevant to this discussion), just trying to point out that there are
fundamental philosophical points at play, points that can be neither
made nor dismissed with a confident and pithy assertion.

I will assert with great confidence that stating that "intellectual
property" is a misuse of language is itself but a rhetorical flourish
(no disrespect intended). A better characterization might be that the
term "intellectual property" is an attempt to wrap a complicated concept
about which we have been arguing for centuries into a few simple words,
for ease of reference and debate (OK, this is one, rose-coloured-glasses
view). Unfortunately, as often happens, an attempt to keep things simple
had led to simplistic arguments on all sides.

> That's why we have copyright laws - we can all
> share the ideas, but we must be fair when we use them, giving credit to
> their originators. Plagiarism is not acceptable, but fair use and correct
> citation are. Etc.

These are artifacts or results of the copyright tradition with which you
are familiar. Different copyright traditions have different views on
these matters. In some cultures (and, I would argue, for much of the
history of the Graeco-Romano-WestEuropeano political culture), "fair use
and correct citation" are (were) foreign concepts, because the ideas of
any ownership and of any kind of data integrity are completely foreign
(there is no idea of "piracy" because all use is fair! Or, to put it
another way, the concept of fair simply doesn't apply). In others, the
notion of idea ownership is quite strong, even in oral traditions
("piracy" is a crime or a sin or both).

This - discussion of the fundamental philosophical idea of whether
"ownership" even applies here - is one of the major debates at the heart
of international efforts to harmonize private law (and taking those laws
beyond the quote-unquote Western world). And, as I'm sure everyone on
this list is at least somewhere aware, at the heart of debates on
software patents and "Euro-DMCA" in the EU.

Note: IANAL and IANAA (I am not an anthropologist).


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