Sunday, February 24, 2008

"Patently" obvious

Due to a lack of digit extraction I'm not at FOSDEM this weekend. That's unfortunate because as well as catching up with my friends at Brainstorm and on GNUstep, I really enjoyed the weekend last year and drank plenty of great Belgian beer and ate plenty of nice moules-frites.

So I've been spiritually living the Free lifestyle by reading what RMS and Torvalds have to say. Mostly I've been going over the essays in Free Software, Free Society. I find it very easy to accept the premises RMS uses, easy to follow, comprehend and agree with the arguments he presents but then somehow (perhaps for illogical reasons on my part, his part or both) hard to agree that the conclusions he draws are inevitable.

For instance, I agree that copyright law exists directly to benefit the public, and indirectly to benefit the authors (by providing incentives for authors in the shape of limited term monopoly over their authored content) and not at all to benefit Industry Associations. It even says that here, in the first ever copyright law: ...for the Encouragement of Learned Men to Compose and Write useful Books; May it please Your Majesty, that it may be Enacted... certainly doesn't seem to mention greedy lawyers or management.

Letters patent were never created for the same reason, of course. But because it became clear that patents from the Crown were obtained uppon Misinformacions and untrue pretences of publique good, many such Graunts have bene undulie obteyned and unlawfullie putt in execucion, to the greate Greevance and Inconvenience of your Majesties Subjects, contrary to the Lawes of this your Realme, and contrary to your Majesties royall and blessed Intencion soe published, so the whole system was rebooted so that patents were only grantable ... to the true and first Inventor and Inventors of such Manufactures, [...] soe as alsoe they be not contrary to the Lawe nor mischievous to the State, by raisinge prices of Commodities at home, or hurt of Trade, or generallie inconvenient....

The situation we find ourselves in now is that industries claim copyrights and inventions from the authors and inventors and lobby for more and more restrictive variants of the above laws, ignoring the previously-granted rights of the public at large and extending the previously-ungranted rights of the rights-owners, simultaneously removing those rights from the people granted the rights in the first place. So why in the case of copyright do the FSF assume copyright, but in the case of patents they refuse to deal with them? That inconsistency I don't understand.

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